Environmental and citizens’ groups filed court papers this month to force the Board of Public Utilities to reconsider approval of the Susquehanna-Roseland electrical transmission line. Reconsideration is needed in light of dramatically changed circumstances. Since the Board approved this $750 million high-voltage transmission line in April 2010, a number of significant facts have developed that throw into doubt the findings underlying the Board’s approval. The motion was filed the same month as the National Park Service declared not pursuing the project would be the “environmentally preferred alternative.”
The high voltage line will bring power from older, heavily polluting coal plants in Pennsylvania to New Jersey and will cut though some of the most environmentally sensitive areas of the state, including the Delaware Water Gap and Highlands region. Drops in energy demand and the success of energy efficiency and demand response programs now raise questions about whether this transmission project is necessary. Demand response works by reducing demand for electricity at peak hours, for instance hot summer days.
“This line was never needed and it is needed even less today. Demand response, energy efficiency, and renewable energy have worked. All this line will do is undermine our clean energy future by bringing in dirty coal power from Pennsylvania,” said Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club. “We believe the BPU needs to revisit their decision since things have dramatically changed from 18 months ago.”
PSE&G received the Board’s approval for the Susquehanna-Roseland line in 2010 based on the Board’s understanding that the transmission line was needed by 2012. PSE&G had claimed that the lights would go out in 2012 without the line. But now, the company itself has delayed construction until 2015. What’s more, PJM, the regional grid operator, has determined that demand response resources alone will be sufficient to replace the Susquehanna-Roseland line during this three-year delay.
“The use of demand response resources to effectively replace the Susquehanna-Roseland line in the 2012–2015 timeframe calls into question the Board’s understanding of the urgent need for the line. Not only that, but PSE&G’s delay of the project’s in-service dates now leaves ample time for a prudent consideration of the new circumstances on the ground,” said Dave Pringle, Campaign Director, New Jersey Environmental Federation. "It's rare you get another bite at an apple but BPU has that second chance now. The Susquehanna-Roseland apple is increasingly rotten—it's not needed and means cheap coal power for New York with Pennsylvania profiting while New Jerseyans get the dirty air and water and torn landscape—and BPU should reject it.”
While environmental and citizen groups challenge the need for this transmission line in the courts, the National Park Service (NPS) is reviewing the environmental impacts of the project. This month NPS released a draft Environmental Impact Statement that found the “no build” alternative was the environmentally preferred route. Hearings have been scheduled for January so that the agency can hear from the public again before selecting the NPS preferred route. The NPS review could ultimately alter the route of the line or determine that the project is not needed at all under the “No Build” alternative. A final NPS decision on the project is expected in early 2013. The NPS released their findings after the Obama administration had selected the Susquehanna-Roseland line for a “fast track” pilot program.
There’s no need to fast track a transmission line that isn’t even needed. Energy demand projections by the grid operator PJM have decreased significantly since the Board approved the Susquehanna-Roseland line. The latest data showing drops in demand already have led PJM to pull the plug on two major west-to-east transmission projects similar to the Susquehanna-Roseland line.
“The latest forecasts showing decrease in electricity demand are a game-changer,” said Hannah Chang, an Earthjustice attorney. “This is new information that the Board should have an opportunity to consider so that it can decide whether lower-cost fixes are the better alternative to this multi-million dollar project.”
“Increased demand response and energy efficiency programs can obviate the need for the line while creating green jobs in New Jersey,” noted Dave Slaperud of Stop the Lines. "These programs promote grid reliability by decreasing our dependence on imports of coal-fired energy from across the Delaware River. This summer we had the largest energy use day on record and there were no brownouts or blackouts due to successful demand response programs."
The motion was filed by Earthjustice and the Eastern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the New Jersey Sierra Club, Environment New Jersey, the New Jersey Highlands Coalition, New Jersey Environmental Federation, and Stop the Lines.