By Jay Cook |
MIDDLETOWN – In less than two weeks, Office of Administrative Law Judge Gail M. Cookson will have everything she needs to make a preliminary decision on a powerline project that’s electrified 17 months of opposition from a citizen’s action group.
After a 45-day deliberation period, Cookson will make the first major ruling for the Monmouth County Reliability Project (MCRP), a 10-mile, 230-kV transmission line proposed by Jersey Central Power & Light Co. The $111 million project is designed to run along the NJ Transit North Jersey Coast Line from Aberdeen to Red Bank through Hazlet, Holmdel and Middletown.
Cookson recommendation to either approve or deny the MCRP will go to the state Board of Public Utilities for a final determination, expected sometime around the new year and the inauguration of New Jersey’s next governor.
The MCRP has met stiff opposition from Residents Against Giant Electric (RAGE), a resident’s group organized in June 2016. RAGE met with reporters and elected officials at a press conference on Oct. 30 at the Middletown Public Library.
“If this new line is built, we’d feel the pain of it every single day. And First Energy would get our money for it every single day,” said RAGE president Rachael Kanapka, referring to JCP&L’s parent company.
Need for the MCRP stems from a violation at JCP&L’s Red Bank Substation where significant power would be lost if two transmission lines on a single structure failed. Kanapka said RAGE and its experts have come up with a less expensive, less intrusive plan to combat the MCRP.
Designed and tested by RAGE expert and electrical engineer P. Jeffrey Palermo, the plan calls for installing two STATCOM devices at the Red Bank substation, and additionally upgrading 11 34.5-kV lines leaving the station. The anticipated cost? $30 million – or $81 million less than JCP&L’s proposal.
“Compare that to the invasive and dangerous and expensive transmission line that JCP&L is proposing to fix the same exact problem,” Kanapka said.
Ron Morano, a JCP&L spokesman, said the utility company has gone above and beyond in proving the MCRP’s need. JCP&L representatives have said the project will benefit 214,000 Monmouth County customers.
“We strongly disagree with RAGE’s proposed alternative to the Monmouth County Reliability Project,” Morano wrote in an email to The Two River Times. “The ‘alternative’ proposed by RAGE would be more expensive to construct, more disruptive to JCP&L’s customers in Monmouth County, and result in a less robust electrical system than the MCRP.”
“JCP&L has provided a significant amount of expert testimony in support of the need for this Project,” Morano continued. “The testimony regarding need was from both the Company as well as PJM.” PJM Interconnection is a regional transmission organization overseeing electrical grids in 13 states, including New Jersey, and the District of Columbia.
Since RAGE fundraising began last year, the group has raised and spent about $450,000 in efforts to combat the MCRP. RAGE leadership said that number is anticipated to rise, depending on legal outcomes. Middletown, Hazlet, Holmdel, and Aberdeen have also joined together to fund a municipal defense team, represented by Bevan, Mosca & Giuditta, P.C.
“That’s a big chunk of change and a big sacrifice from a lot of taxpayers,” said RAGE treasurer Stephen Lunanova.
At the press conference, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (NJ-6) and state Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-11) took issue with JCP&L’s actions since the MCRP was announced, charging the utility company has used ratepayer dollars to fund a falsified campaign.
Pallone, a ranking member of the House of Representative’s Energy and Commerce Committee, questioned JCP&L’s discourse.
“Why can they spend ratepayers’ money, our money, to lobby on behalf of this line, when on the other hand you have to spend your own money to take the opposite point of view?” he asked.
Beck, who represents only one of the five towns – Red Bank – called for an investigation into JCP&L’s “libelous practices and slanderous information” over the past year and a half.
“It’s wrong information, and they’re presenting to the public something that is false. And they should be fined and sued and we should hold them accountable for misrepresenting this project to our residents,” said Beck. “If the Board of Public Utilities is unwilling to take this up, unwilling to conduct an investigation, then I will call on the Attorney General to do so.”
Responding to Beck’s comments, Morano said, “Rhetoric such as that is unfortunate.”
Depending on which side it favors, the MCRP could reach the state Appellate Division after final decisions later next year. But Kanapka doubled-down on her comments, challenging the utility’s project.
“JCP&L’s proposal to build this line is at its best incompetent and weak, and at its worst, deviant, underhanded and greedy,” she said.
This article was first published in the Nov. 2-9, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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