The New Jersey organization, Residents Against Giant Electric (RAGE) is voicing opposition against Jersey Central Power & Light’s (JCP&L) proposed 10-mile, 230-kV Monmouth County Reliability Project (MCRP), but the company maintains that the project would benefit customers.
As noted on the project’s website, the line would be located on an existing right of way (ROW), and would run between the energy substations in Aberdeen and Red Bank.
Judy Musa, RAGE communications volunteer, told TransmissionHub that the organization – which she said is a grassroots citizens’ organization with more than 6,000 members and an executive board – began 27 years ago when the project was originally proposed and started up again in its current and formalized organization in May “when families within the 200[-foot] zone of the ROW received letters about the project. Just as in 1989, the group has numerous concerns about the need for and the scope of the proposed” MCRP.
As noted on the project’s website, the MCRP is similar to prior projects that JCP&L has proposed in the same areas of Monmouth County. Population growth and real estate development forecast 30 years ago prompted recommendations in the 1980s and 1990s for upgrades of the transmission infrastructure in Monmouth County, JCP&L said, adding that now, that forecast growth has come to fruition, and the company can no longer delay the investment.
According to the company’s petition for a determination that the MCRP is reasonably necessary for the service, convenience or welfare of the public, which was filed in August with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU), no residences are located within the ROW for proposed Route B, which is the preferred route. While Route B would traverse within 250, 100, and 75 feet of the highest number of residences (458, 96, and 53 residences, respectively), those residences are presently located adjacent to the active New Jersey Transit (NJT) corridor, the company said in its petition.
Musa said that RAGE opposes the MCRP for four reasons. For instance, the “third, redundant transmission line is not needed,” she said, adding that JCP&L’s data shows that the current transmission lines have been “up” 99.9% of the time for the past 20 years, and that only two failures in 2008 and 2010, respectively, are related to transmission issues, specifically attributed to equipment “failures” with outages totaling 10 hours.
If JCP&L wants to fix a reliability issue, it “should look locally and fix them, not build an estimated $110 million additional unnecessary transmission line that may never get used,” Musa said.
Musa also said that RAGE proposes that JCP&L “invest in updating the current antiquated (more than 50-year-old) distribution lines and substations to address outages,” instead of build the MCRP.
JCP&L “could also look to energy providers such as [Consolidated Edison Company of New York] and communities around the country that are using [21st] century technology to address reliability such as microgrids and demand response,” Musa said. “FirstEnergy has fought demand response initiatives and, unlike its competitors, doesn’t appear to have visionary leadership in planning for a future that looks far different than its legacy past.”
According to JCP&L’s petition, construction and energization of the project would enhance the reliability and redundancy of the company’s transmission and distribution system in Monmouth County, and therefore, a BPU decision finding that the project is reasonably necessary for the service, convenience or welfare of the public is warranted.
JCP&L also said that in considering ways to address the reliability issues that led to the decision to build the MCRP, JCP&L considered electrical alternatives: building a new 230-kV line into the Red Bank substation from other locations, including tapping the Atlantic-Raritan 230-kV line, building a third 230-kV line from Atlantic, extending a 230-kV line from Oceanview, or tapping the Freneau-NJT Aberdeen 230-kV line.
The other alternatives either added exposure to existing transmission lines, added transmission lines to existing corridors, or left parts of the transmission system radial, JCP&L said, adding that it believes that the MCRP is the only feasible way to add support to the network without adding exposure to existing lines or increasing the number of transmission lines in a corridor, and it eliminates two radial transmission lines, while providing the necessary network reinforcement.
JCP&L said that building the MCRP from the NJT Aberdeen substation to the NJT Red Bank substation was judged to be a superior electrical alternative.
According to the project’s website, the MCRP is necessary to deliver reliable electricity to customers, regardless of the electricity source.
Musa said that RAGE’s reasons to oppose the MCRP also include that electricity demand continues to decline due to energy efficiencies and alternative energy sources, and that the project is unprecedented.
“Never has a project of this scope been completed in such a narrow corridor, located through such densely populated residential neighborhoods along an active metro railway,” Musa claimed.
Musa continued, “Engineers recommend a 150-foot cleared space for [an ROW], with transmission lines placed at the center of the corridor. NJ Transit’s ROW is only 100-feet wide, with its center area occupied by tracks and current electrical systems. It was designed … for a railway, nothing else. Homes, schools, two senior living communities and thousands of conservation areas, parks and fields are only feet from the [ROW], a direct contradiction to recommended protocol of placing transmission lines far from people and communities.”
JCP&L said in its petition that its ROW for the project would vary depending on the width of the NJT ROW and whether JCP&L has easements or property ownership adjacent to the transit ROW, but the proposed ROW for the MCRP is about 100 feet wide; some of that ROW would include existing subtransmission lines.
Musa also referenced the project’s cost, saying: “Transmission lines are good for a utility’s bottom line at the expense of ratepayers. Current policies and regulations incentivize legacy utilities to build transmission infrastructure with a guaranteed return on equity (ROE) from FERC, passing on the building costs to ratepayers.”
Musa said, in part, that “JCP&L has already petitioned for a $170 million rate hike (a 150% increase).”
Musa said that RAGE is concerned about the cost impact, adding: “[T]here are special incentives in place designed to reduce the risk of projects that face special difficulties in getting built, a growing problem along the densely populated Eastern Seaboard. The incentives include allowing developers to begin collecting rates, if approved by the regional grid operator, while construction is in progress. They also enable a developer to recover its costs if a project is canceled through no fault of its own. Typically, the projects are awarded a higher return on equity than what a state utility commission might grant for smaller distribution projects.”
Musa claimed that there is no benefit for the project to Monmouth County residents, and that there are only downsides for residents, namely: economic devaluation of homes providing the tax base for the community’s superior schools, public services and community; potential health/safety concerns for residents, NJ Transit employees and commuters; environmental degradation affecting the endangered species, plans and environmentally sensitive Navesink watershed/River.
JCP&L said in its petition that based on the preferred route, it estimates that the MCRP – including the work at the Taylor Lane substation, which is projected to be $4m – would have a total cost of about $111m, including overheads. The petition also noted that the project would be built in accordance with best management practices that use industry standard construction practices to perform work safely, responsibly, and cost effectively in compliance with applicable Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules and regulations, environmental regulations and at a reasonable cost to customers.
In addition, the petition noted that JCP&L plans to use the shortest monopoles that satisfy engineering, safety, and reliability concerns for the project. JCP&L, which is a subsidiary of FirstEnergy (NYSE:FE), said that it uses the most cost-effective structures possible that minimize electric and magnetic fields, while meeting all National Electrical Safety Code (NESC), OSHA, NJ Transit, and FirstEnergy clearance and safety requirements.
On its website, the company claimed that building the project would improve service reliability for nearly 214,000 residential and commercial customers, with modern technologies delivering real-time information about system conditions so that JCP&L can better monitor and respond to customer power needs. The website further claimed that the MCRP would create 245 jobs, and that other economic benefits include nearly $43m in compensation, nearly $60m in GDP and nearly $12.6m in state and local revenues.
A FirstEnergy spokesperson told TransmissionHub that the characterization that JCP&L is seeking a 150% rate increase is inaccurate, adding: “FirstEnergy had originally planned to pursue transmission investments in New Jersey through the Mid-Atlantic Interstate Transmission LLC, or MAIT. New Jersey regulators ruled that a transmission-only company cannot be considered a public utility.”
So, JCP&L filed with FERC for “a rate formula that is already in place at other electric utilities in the state of New Jersey,” he said, adding that through careful planning, the company has maintained the transmission system and “there has not been a transmission rate increase for JCP&L customers for 18 years.”
He claimed that the current rates no longer reflect the rising cost of enhancing service reliability, adding redundancy to the grid, as well as modernizing facilities and equipment. The forward-looking formula rates allow companies to make more timely investments in the transmission system and it is a utility industry standard, he said.
“Transmission lines are the backbone of an electric system and you need to have robust transmission and distribution facilities in order to provide reliable electric service to customers,” he said.
Musa said that RAGE addressed concerns at JCP&L’s June open houses, and that JCP&L has been invited to speak at several open public meetings hosted by RAGE, as well as local, county and state-elected officials. Musa claimed that JCP&L has “declined to answer any questions beyond the FAQs posted on” its website.
The FirstEnergy spokesperson said that a public meeting will be held as part of the BPU review process.
Musa said that in efforts to make its concerns heard, RAGE has, among other things, hosted numerous community meetings since June to address concerns and communicated them to key stakeholders and decision-makers at all levels of government. Musa said that RAGE has obtained support and resolutions from, for instance, local, regional and state civic, historic, environmental and land use organizations; has attended public meetings and presented to the New Jersey Transit Board of Directors, as well as to the New Jersey Senate Legislative Oversight Committee and Assembly Judiciary Committee; and has obtained bipartisan support from, among others, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., (D-N.J.).
According to Smith’s website, Smith testified in October before the New Jersey Transit Corporation Board of Directors in an effort to convince the agency to reject JCP&L’s application to use the transit agency’s ROW for the MCRP. According to Pallone’s website, Pallone in October sent a letter to the BPU voicing his concerns over the proposed MCRP.
According to JCP&L’s website, if the project is approved, construction would begin in August 2017, with Phase 1 of the construction completed in June 2018, followed by Phase 2 to be complete – and for the project to be in service – in June 2019.