MIDDLETOWN – To explain why it believes its proposed powerline project is necessary and would benefit Monmouth County, JCP&L officials point to a situation last August, when a mix of hot and stormy weather jeopardized power for thousands.
Between Aug. 12 and 14, the Freneau Substation in Matawan experienced a chain of events that could have disrupted power to 65,000 Monmouth customers, Larre Hozempa, a FirstEnergy transmission operations manager, told
members of the media at an invitation-only information session Tuesday.
With temperatures in the 90s and thunderstorms in the area, a dead end connector for a 230 kV transmission line at the Freneau substation in Matawan failed. That substation is served by the transmission line connecting the Atlantic substation in Colts Neck and the Raritan River substation in Sayreville.
Complicating the issue, Hozempa said, was that two smaller 34.5 kV lines were not functional. One was out for a scheduled service, and the other had tripped, due to an overload of power. This left the potential open for a cascading outage.
“You really don’t know what the situation is going to be – it’s kind of an uncontrolled event,” Hozempa said of the potential outage. “We’re not allowed to have those on our system.”
He said approximately 10,000 customers experienced power disruptions at that time.
This weather event occurred just days after JCP&L officially filed the Monmouth County Reliability Project (MCRP) petition to the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) on Aug. 9.
Hozempa said if the project were in service, its 230 kV source coming into the Freneau substation would have mitigated the issue.
As described in the petition to the BPU, the MCRP is a 230 kV transmission line which would span a nearly 10-mile stretch of the NJ Transit North Jersey Coast Line commuter rail right-of- way. It would begin at Aberdeen’s NJ Transit substation, travel through Hazlet and Holmdel, loop at the Taylor Lane substation in Middletown, and continue on before ending at the NJ Transit substation in Red Bank. The $111 million project also accounts for upgrades to the substations at Taylor Lane, Aberdeen and Red Bank.
Utility officials also believe two previous events underscore the necessity for the project. Failures at the Oceanview substation in 2008 and at the Atlantic substation in 2010 resulted in a combined 350,000 customer outages.
Scott Humphreys, a transmission siting supervisor for FirstEnergy, said the trio of events expose vulnerabilities for Monmouth County.
He added that the MCRP is “reliability for Monmouth County, in Monmouth County, and solely for the residents of Monmouth County.”
Ron Morano, a JCP&L spokesman, said these events will be used as rebuttal testimony for the next stage of the MCRP’s fate. Scheduled for six sessions between April 4 and 11, Administrative Law Judge Gail M. Cookson will be presiding over evidentiary hearings on the MCRP. All testimony regarding the case from the parties involved is pre-filed to Cookson, and the meat and potatoes of the hearings will be lawyers cross-examining witnesses.
Residents Against Giant Electric (RAGE), the citizens group which has fought the project since its beginning in May 2016, are officially one of the many intervenors in the case, meaning they can provide witness testimony and object to the MCRP petition.
RAGE has held steady in their disapproval of the project, stating they are concerned with the depreciation of home values, potential negative health effects and the possible diminished aesthetics to the five affected towns.
“We don’t believe that the project is needed,” said RAGE spokesperson Judy Musa. “If there are issues to the power service to the area, there are experts that have suggested other ways to ameliorate those problems.”
She said the group has hired experts who support their belief that the MCRP is unnecessary: photographer and graphic designer Michael Basch; electrical engineer Jeff Palermo; property valuation expert and founder of the Kislak Real Estate Institute Donald Moliver, PhD; and public health physician David Carpenter, MD.
Carpenter spoke to concerned residents on July 20 at Raritan High School about the potential dangers from living near high voltage powerlines and electromagnetic radiation at an event coordinated between RAGE and Assemblywoman Amy Handlin of Middletown.
RAGE is represented by attorney Peter Dickson of Potter & Dickson, based in Princeton.
Musa said RAGE has spent $110,000 in legal fees, adding that “it’s not even close to what it’s going to cost us.”
The list of other intervenors in the case, all against the MCRP, has grown in the past months. Among them are The Division of the Rate Counsel, which is ordered by statue to be an intervenor on the behalf of ratepayers; the boards of education in Middletown, Hazlet and Holmdel; and the “Joint Defense Group,” which consists of the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the townships of Middletown, Hazlet, Holmdel and Aberdeen, according to Anthony Mercantante, Middletown’s township administrator. The Joint Defense Group is represented by Bevan, Mosca & Guiditta, PC, a firm based in Basking Ridge.
Government officials from the municipal, county and state levels in the affected areas have spoken out on how the MCRP would be detrimental to Monmouth County. The most important voice, though, is Gov. Chris Christie, who recently commented after previously staying mum on the subject.
On the March 27 edition of New Jersey 101.5’s ‘Ask the Governor’ program, where he regularly fields calls and messages from residents, the MCRP was brought up by host Eric Scott.
Christie said he wants the BPU to go through their public hearing process first, so he can get a feel for what the people are saying.
“Ultimately this is going to be a decision made by the Board of Public Utilities,” Christie said. “Can I have some influence on that? Sure, but I have not taken a position on this issue one way or the other yet, because I think the information is still being gathered and being brought in.”
Christie added that he is briefed on the public hearings, and said that his office is “keeping an eye on things.”
Citing pipelines and the Susquehanna-Roseland Reliability Project – a 150-mile long, 500 kV transmission line beginning in Salem Township, Pennsylvania and ending in the Borough of Roseland, New Jersey – the Governor said the state has tried to make energy more reliable in the post-Super Storm Sandy era.
“Everybody objects to the pipelines or the powerlines – ‘I don’t want them’ – well how do you expect us to get the energy to be more reliable? These projects are about making these power delivery services tougher, stronger, more resistant to storm,” Christie said.
“I understand that people don’t like it in their backyard, but they like the electricity in their house when they turn the switch,” Christie added. “It’s a balance, ever ybody.”
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