State told power plan pros, cons

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - Power grid experts testified about the need for the 500-kilovolt Susquehanna-Roseland power line in front of a dozen attorneys at the offices of the state's Board of Public Utilities.

The four experts — three from grid operator PJM Interconnection, one from power company PSE&G — stated their case in proposing the power line, which will double the height and power of the existing line from Susquehanna, Pa., to Roseland, in Essex County, cutting through the southern half of Sussex County along the way.

Testimony surrounding routing and construction of the project was put on the record at evidentiary hearings by PSE&G experts and engineers. The PJM-dominated needs panel will complete its input soon, and will be followed by the objector's experts. The need issue is considered to be the main question determining the future of the controversial power plans before the BPU.

PSE&G, the state's largest electric utility, said it needs to build the line and have it operating by 2012 to meet the electricity demands and reliability requirements expected for the region in the coming decades.

Opponents have rallied around several issues, including safety and health issues stemming from having a 500-kilovolt system on the same pole with a 230-kilovolt system, the potential environmental damage the construction project will do, the visual and property value impact of the towers and whether bringing in electricity generated in other states meets New Jersey's own goals of increasing so-called "green" and renewable sources of power.

The seven hours of question-and-answer testimony included hypertechnical engineering explanations, staccato series of acronyms involving state and federal regulatory agencies and figures spanning all details of the $750 million project.

The PJM experts conceded regional power demands have decreased the last three years, but maintain their forecasting models predict increasing power needs beginning in 2012, which could induce brownouts if the line is not built.

"We don't use actual loads, we use forecasts of loads," said Steven Herling, PJM's vice president of planning.

"I can only characterize it as a significant increase," added John Reynolds, a senior economic analyst at PJM.

Four attorneys cross-examined the experts, with few breaks.

Carol Overland, a lawyer specializing in power grids, represented the Fredon-based citizens group Stop the Lines. Overland peppered the four-man panel with questions for about three hours, with detailed points about the methodology of deciding upon the lines as a power solution.

Catherine Tamasik, the attorney representing a seven-town coalition opposing the lines, followed with questions about determining the need through the peak demand of electricity during hot summer days.

Julia LaMense, the lawyer representing four environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, called into question the pressing need of the lines, as her clients have done since the plan was proposed last year.

Henry Ogden, New Jersey's assistant deputy public advocate, finished the cross-examination by asking about the strategic routing of the lines, which could coincide with the much-publicized closing of a Bergen County power plant.

Joseph Fiordaliso, Board of Public Utilities commissioner, presided alone over the hearing. He occasionally urged the board's experts to answer the questions succinctly, and to avoid "dissertations." He had similar advice for the attorneys.

"I would appreciate it if you would just ask a question," he said.

Karen Johnson, spokeswoman for PSE&G, said the experts had done an efficient job of presenting what the power company considers an energy necessity.

The opposition attorneys said they were getting the job done.

"We got on the record what we wanted on the record," Tamasik said.

The hearings are continuing. The board expects to reach a final decision in January.



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