The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) – in an order dated March 28, and to be effective on April 5 – ordered that all responses to Jersey Central Power & Light’s (JCP&L) exceptions to an initial decision denying the company’s petition regarding its proposed 230-kV Monmouth County Reliability Project be submitted by April 12.
As noted in the order, FirstEnergy’s (NYSE:FE) JCP&L in August 2016 filed a petition with the BPU seeking a determination that the proposed transmission line between New Jersey Transit’s (NJT) Aberdeen substation in Aberdeen, N.J., and JCP&L’s Red Bank substation in Red Bank, N.J., as well as associated upgrades to JCP&L’s Taylor Lane substation in Middletown, N.J., is reasonably necessary for the service, convenience, or welfare of the public and therefore the company is entitled to relief from complying with the zoning, site plan review, and other municipal land use ordinances or rules passed by municipalities along the proposed project route.
Evidentiary hearings were held in April 2017, and on March 8, an administrative law judge (ALJ) issued the initial decision, which required exceptions to the initial decision to be filed by March 21, the BPU noted.
JCP&L, in a March 8 statement, said, in part: “We strongly disagree that JCP&L failed to prove the need for the Monmouth County Reliability Project. The initial decision contradicts the findings made by the regional grid operator and industry experts. Any alternatives to the proposed project would cause significantly greater disruption to the community, environmental impacts and project costs.”
As noted on the website of the 10-mile project, the company is “doing everything we can to minimize expenses for this $111 million project, including building it above ground and using existing rights-of-way.”
The project has a preliminary in-service date of June 2019, according to the site.
The BPU said in its order that Residents Against Giant Electric, Inc., (RAGE) on March 23 filed a request for a three-week extension to file its response to the exceptions to the initial decision by April 17. The BPU noted that the Joint Municipal Group (JMG) joined in RAGE’s request by correspondence dated March 23.
JCP&L on March 23 filed opposition to the request for a three-week extension, asserting that the extension is unwarranted and would provide the intervenors with considerably more time to prepare their reply to the exceptions than JCP&L had to file its exceptions to the initial decision in the matter, the BPU said.
While JCP&L argued that granting the request for an extension until April 17 “is fundamentally unfair and unnecessary,” the company indicated that if the BPU inclined to grant the extension request, then it should require all replies to the exceptions to be filed by April 4.
The BPU said that RAGE on March 25 filed its response to JCP&L’s opposition, arguing that JCP&L had more than 13 days to file its exceptions because it would have started to draft its brief prior to the issuance of the initial decision.
Given the extensive record in the matter, as well as the length of the initial decision and the company’s exceptions filed thereto, the BPU said that it finds that RAGE and JMG have demonstrated good cause to warrant a 14-day extension to file their responses to JCP&L’s exceptions to the initial decision.
A FirstEnergy spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment by TransmissionHub on March 29.
The initial decision
The ALJ, in the March 8 initial decision, noted that PJM Interconnection has determined through its Regional Transmission Expansion Planning (RTEP) process that the transmission project is necessary to retain reliability for the entire regional transmission grid, and specifically for New Jersey.
The project is proposed to follow predominantly in the NJT right of way (ROW) on the North Jersey Shore commuter line through the Monmouth municipalities of Aberdeen, Hazlet, Holmdel, Middletown, and Red Bank.
The ALJ also noted that the vast majority of the commenters at public hearings were opposed to the project, and that major opposition was primarily based on health and safety issues related to electromagnetic fields (EMF), aesthetic concerns, property value concerns, and environmental concerns. Those backing the project primarily based that support on reliability and economic concerns, and were primarily from businesses not in the five impacted municipalities on a form letter prepared by the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce for its members, the ALJ said.
The ALJ noted that Theodore Krauss, general manager of Transmission Engineering with FirstEnergy, explained during the proceeding that JCP&L’s transmission line naming nomenclature typically identifies lines based on the substations with breakers to which the line connects. Once it is installed, the name of the line that is proposed will refer to the substations with a breaker position at the end of transmission line circuit the project creates; these substations are JCP&L’s Freneau, Red Bank, and Taylor Lane. Therefore, the ALJ added, the name of the installed line will be the Freneau-Taylor Lane 230 kV Transmission Line and the Red Bank-Taylor Lane 230 kV Transmission Line.
The ALJ also noted that Scott Humphrys, a transmission services specialist III with FirstEnergy, noted during the proceeding that the jump in the project’s cost from the $22m that was originally presented to PJM to the current $111m price tag was due in large part to the generic nature of the original proposal as a “very conceptual” eight-mile transmission line with an undefined route, as well as increased number of monopoles for the unspecified additional length of 1.7 miles.
The ALJ said that the most important threshold question posed in the company’s petition is whether there is a need for the project. The need is driven solely by the “P7” contingency event, which, if left unaddressed, is a NERC criteria violation. The ALJ added that a P7 violation was not reconfirmed at the July 2017 or January 2018 projected summer peak loads.
As noted in the initial order, a P7 event would be the loss of two 230-kV transmission lines on a common structure failing at the same time and causing a voltage collapse, i.e., blackout. In this case, it would be the loss of the two lines feeding into Red Bank, the ALJ said.
“While it is true that growth rates have been flat (or slightly down), and are predicted to continue to be flat …, I also find that the actual and projected summer peak loads are now in the very gray area of P7 event territory,” the ALJ said.
The ALJ added: “I find that the company has proven a need for a solution to the P7 contingency event, under assumptions that predominantly pre-date the petition and these hearings. Nevertheless, I find that if otherwise warranted for [certain] reasons …, there is at the very least some considerable ‘breathing space’ to do further review and consideration of the [project] and/or certain alternatives because of the significantly reduced load projections, which remain untested.”
The ALJ said that the use of this particular NJT ROW for 230-kV monopoles of an average height of 135 feet and maximum height of 210 feet “is untried, untested, and likely infeasible due to its narrow width, age, and proximity to residential communities. Furthermore, the aesthetic, real estate, and environmental impacts on the five communities is overwhelming and is not offset by the interests of all JCP&L ratepayers, that is, the general public, because this particular project is geared to a resolution of a highly improbable P7 violation that could cause a blackout in the Red Bank area and only that area.”
The ALJ recommended that JCP&L replace or upgrade the three to 11 34.5-kV older and potentially overloaded conductors within the next two years.
The ALJ also recommended, for instance, that JCP&L hire a neutral engineering firm, from a list created with input from all active parties and selected from that list by the BPU, to undertake a new study of routes and alternatives, inclusive of HVTL and non-transmission, as solutions to the P7 violation, without regard to any upgrade to the Taylor Lane or Freneau substations.