The National Park Service (NPS) has chosen the route preferred by PPL (NYSE:PPL) subsidiary PPL Electric Utilities and Public Service Enterprise Group (NYSE:PEG) subsidiary Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) for the Susquehanna-Roseland project.
PPL also said March 29 that the line will run from Berwick, Pa., to Roseland, N.J. PJM Interconnection ordered the new line to prevent violations of national standards for the operation of the nation’s electric power grid, PPL said, adding that PJM recently reconfirmed the need for the line.
According to TransmissionHub data, the purpose of the 145-mile, 500-kV project is to improve reliability. Its cost is divided between PSE&G, $750m, and PPL, $510m.
In a separate March 29 statement, NPS said it identified the preferred alternative, Alternative 2, after reviewing public and agency comments received during a 60-day comment period on the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) that NPS issued in December 2011. NPS also held public meetings.
“In identifying the preferred alternative, we closely examined the existing easements owned by the utilities, the impacts of the proposed transmission line, alternatives to the proposal, and mitigation measures to avoid and minimize adverse impacts to park resources,” NPS Regional Director for the Northeast Region Dennis Reidenbach said in the statement.
The identification of the preferred alternative is not a final decision, NPS said, noting that it will make a final decision on the construction and right of way permit application in a record of decision that will be issued no sooner than 30 days following the public release of the final EIS, which is expected in September.
Mitigation analysis will occur throughout the remaining portion of the NEPA process. Furthermore, NPS added, it is consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which shares some boundaries with NPS in the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge, as well as with tribal governments and state historic preservation offices. All comments that NPS receives during the 60-day public comment period will be available in the final EIS.
A PPL spokesperson told TransmissionHub March 29: “The final decision from the Park Service is the last major approval that the line needs. [The Park Service] will have a record of decision in October that will finalize this and that’s when we’ll have the final permit that we need.”
PPL has not set a timetable for construction, he said, adding that PPL has permits from local agencies, for instance, on other segments of the line “so, if we chose to, we could start construction activities elsewhere other than” NPS land.
PPL said Pennsylvania and New Jersey state regulators have approved the utilities’ chosen route. About 95% of the 145-mile route would follow the path of an existing 85-year-old power line that must be replaced as it is approaching the end of its useful life and is undersized for today’s electricity demands, PPL said.
The route crosses about four miles of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River, and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail on the path of an existing power line, PPL said, adding that the utilities already have an existing property easement through the park service units.
The project does not require significant widening of the existing right of way, PPL said, noting that the current utility corridor through NPS lands is four miles long, with cleared widths of up to 200 feet. The only additional right of way and clearing needed by the utilities is 50 additional feet of right of way for 0.7 miles in Pennsylvania where the existing corridor is now 100 feet wide, PPL said.
Under the mitigation package that PPL Electric Utilities and PSE&G proposed, thousands of acres of land would be purchased or preserved. PPL also said that while the total value of the package will depend on the final assessment of impacts by the park service, the utilities’ estimate that the cost would be $30m to $40m. These acquisitions would protect scenic vistas for hikers on the Appalachian Trail and could expand NPS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service land holdings, the company said.
Furthermore, the mitigation package may bridge gaps between existing federal and state lands, PPL said, adding that this would create a half-million-acre swath of contiguous publicly owned or preserved natural lands for recreation and wildlife preservation.
The mitigation package would benefit NPS and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service lands for conservation and wildlife interests, and for people who visit these areas, PPL said, adding that the utilities are working with national, regional and local organizations to assist in executing the land transactions.
PPL said the utilities are planning to have the line in service in time to meet summer electricity demand in 2015.
The line was among those chosen by the Obama administration in 2011 to accelerate their permitting and construction as part of the rapid response team for transmission effort, the company said.