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Billion-dollar transmission project gets go-ahead

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The National Park Service has given its final go-ahead to a billion-dollar transmission project aimed at boosting electrical reliability in the region.

The park service late Monday issued a Record of Decision approving a route for the 145-mile Susquehanna-Roseland power line. The project entails deploying new 500-kilovolt lines from Berwick, Pa., to Roseland in Essex County. The newly approved route would run through four miles of parkland at the Pennsylvania/New Jersey border, including the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

The project is being built by Newark-based Public Service Electric and Gas Co. and Pennsylvania-based PPL Electric Utilities. In a joint statement, the companies said the project will improve service in the region.

“This new line will reinforce our nation’s critical energy infrastructure for future generations. It will ensure that homes and businesses in a multistate region continue to enjoy safe and reliable electric service long into the future,” the companies said in a joint statement attributed to PSE&G President and Chief Operating Officer Ralph LaRossa and PPL President Gregory N. Dudkin.

PPL and PSE&G already have rights of way through the park areas, but the National Park Service ordered the companies to establish a $56 million fund to compensate for wetlands impacts and fund historical and cultural preservation activities. The fund will be administered by a nonprofit.

Some environmental groups, including the Sierra Club of New Jersey, argued the project would cause environmental damage and is unnecessary, given the opportunity to reduce energy demand through energy efficiency technologies. The utilities, however, said they are required by the regional grid operator, PJM Interconnection Inc., to replace the 85-year-old line and argue it will end up saving ratepayers money by relieving congestion.

Jeff Tittel, the Sierra Club’s New Jersey director, strongly denounced the park service’s decision, saying his group will challenge the park service’s “outrageous” ruling in court.

“This is a dirty deal for dirty power and sets a dangerous precedent.  It is now open season on our national parklands,” Tittel said in a press release.

The project is expected to cost between $1.2 billion and $1.3 billion, about $800 million of which will come from the New Jersey portion of the project.

Construction on the project began in June at locations where the project didn’t require further approvals, according to John Margaritis, a PSE&G spokesman. He said the project will create about 2,000 direct and indirect jobs. PSE&G will use in-state and out-of-state contractors, but he said more than half of the jobs will go to New Jersey contractors and subcontractors. To date, 185 construction workers have been hired, with another 65 to be added shortly.


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