PPL, PSE&G to start Delaware Water Gap construction for Susquehanna-Roseland

Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) and PPL Electric Utilities announced Aug. 16 that they will start construction on the portion of the 500-kV Susquehanna-Roseland transmission project that will traverse the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area on Sept. 3.

Construction in the four miles of the recreation area will take about six months to complete. The project will begin with access road construction followed by the drilling and pouring of new concrete foundations, removal of the existing power line, and setting of the new poles and installing the new wires.

The Susquehanna-Roseland power line is being built to maintain the reliability of the electric grid in the Northeast portion of the United States. It will run from Berwick, Pa., to Roseland, N.J., crossing the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River, and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, and will create about 2,000 jobs during its 2.5-year construction period, the companies said.

PPL is building the 100-mile Pennsylvania portion of the project, while PSE&G is building the 45-mile New Jersey portion of the line. PPL estimated during its 1Q13 earnings call that its portion of the project would cost an estimated $630m, while PSE&G estimates that the cost of constructing its portion of the project could reach as high as $790m.

Approximately 95% of the route follows the path of an existing power line that must be replaced because it is 85 years old, is approaching the end of its useful life and is undersized for the electricity demands of the 21st Century. Following an existing power line route reduces the project’s overall impact on people and the environment, the companies said.

The construction activities will cause temporary restrictions or closures of some roads and trails in the park. The utilities are working closely with the National Park Service to minimize those inconveniences, and to ensure the safety of all park visitors during construction, they said in a joint statement.

The project does not require significant widening of the existing right of way (ROW) on federal land. The current utility corridor through National Park Service land has cleared widths of up to 200 feet, which is adequate for the project. However, the utilities will need to clear 50 additional feet of ROW for 0.7 miles in Pennsylvania where the existing corridor is 100 feet wide.

To mitigate the impacts of the power line on federal lands, the companies will contribute to a fund administered by a nonprofit group. As directed by the National Park Service (NPS), the money will be used to purchase or preserve land for public use, compensate for wetlands impacts, and fund cultural and historic preservation activities. Mitigation is a routine part of the environmental impact review process when power lines or other needed infrastructure improvements have an impact on federal lands..

NPS determined that the fund should be at least $56m based on the assessment of the project’s impacts. In addition to the monetary contributions, the companies will contribute land along their ROWs. In locations where the companies’ easements are wider than the 200 feet needed for the project, the excess easement areas will be transferred to the NPS as part of the mitigation plan.

The Obama administration selected the Susquehanna-Roseland line in October 2011 for fast-track treatment by the administration’s Rapid Response Team for Transmission. The team was formed to streamline the review and permitting of transmission line projects to increase reliability and save consumers money by modernizing the grid, while ensuring careful federal review.

PSE&G is a subsidiary of Public Service Enterprise Group (NYSE: PEG), and PPL Electric Utilities is owned by PPL (NYSE:PPL).