By: Aaron Nathans |
The nuclear power plants across the Delaware River in New Jersey need their electrical reliability and transmission capabilities strengthened, say officials at the regional grid management company, PJM Interconnection.
But PJM officials, environmentalists and power transmission companies are locked in an ongoing disagreement over the best way to do that. They are considering various options for a costly crossing of the river to a Delaware substation, but a Delaware official said the state’s ratepayers run the risk of shouldering the burden of a project that would mainly benefit people in other states.
The idea of the project was to allow the three nuclear power units to generate the most power possible, and to simplify transmission operations, said Ray Dotter, PJM spokesman.
Developers were invited to make proposals to fix the problem, resulting in 26 proposals in all. In June, PJM staff recommended to its board of directors a PSE&G proposal for an 18-mile, 500 kilovolt power line that crosses the Delaware River next to an existing power line. The crossing would lead to the Red Lion substation near Delaware City.
It was the first example of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s order requiring competition for transmission projects. That, Dotter said, means someone other than the local utility can propose and build a transmission project to solve a problem.
PSE&G officials in June said they expected final approval from the PJM board in July. PSE&G estimated the project would cost between $280-320 million. The costs of the project would be spread out among all PJM customers.
In choosing PSE&G, PJM staff rejected an alternative plan by LS Power to construct a 230 kv line through Delaware, crossing the river at a new substation directly across from the nuclear power plants.
But at the July meeting, the PJM board declined to endorse its staff’s recommendation. The board did not explicitly state a rationale. It sent a letter to the four finalist developers, stating: “To ensure a thorough and fair review, given the complexities of the issues, the Board has determined that it will take the matter under advisement and defer a selection at this time.”
The board invited the finalists to revise their proposals. The finalists, besides PSE&G and LS, are Transource and Dominion.
The Delaware Public Advocate has supported the 500 kv line, and was concerned the 230 kv line proposal would saddle Delaware ratepayers with the cost of construction, citing PJM transmission tariffs.
“We just thought that was enormously unfair for the Delaware ratepayers,” said Ruth Ann Price, deputy public advocate. The proposal made by PJM staff was expensive but ultimately cost effective in that it addressed the problem, Price said.
Maya van Rossum, who directs the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, said in a letter to PJM that the PSE&G option is “very damaging environmentally, and not just to one ecological resource, but to hundreds.” The crossing would require dredging, filling and pilings, which she said would harm water quality and hurt endangered species of fish.
“The development that this option would require will most certainly transform forested wetlands to a less productive condition,” she wrote.
Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, said he was concerned about the environmental impacts of PSE&G’s proposal, and urged public hearings. He said the advocate’s office had weighed in too soon.
Delaware Public Service Commission spokesman Matt Hartigan said: “We feel it’s premature to express an opinion regarding the ultimate result of PJM’s decision making process. Having said that, Staff does have concerns with the high cost of any new transmission project, the potential environmental impacts and the economic impact on Delaware ratepayers.”
Karen Johnson, PSE&G spokeswoman, said the company remains “hopeful that the PJM board will make a decision soon and approve our proposal.”