By: Alexi Friedman |
A statewide project from Public Service Electric & Gas to install taller, higher-voltage utility poles can move forward, New Jersey regulators said today, after opposition from one Bergen County community suspended work for months.
In July, the Village of Ridgewood objected to the project, which replaces street utility poles with 65-foot versions that carry 69,000-volt transmission circuits, in addition to the existing 26,000-volt lines.
Ridgewood residents had complained the state’s largest utility never provided any advance notice, that the high-voltage lines could carry potential safety hazards, and would affect property values in a community where median home prices are more than $700,000. The village suggested installing underground lines, though PSE&G has said the cost would be too high.
Work was halted, but today the state Board of Public Utilities voted unanimously to allow the project to continue, citing the general need to increase service reliability and upgrade transmission lines throughout New Jersey and the Northeast.
“While I have sympathy for the citizens and the aesthetic effect of the project, it is necessary for reliability and I don’t see the health and safety concerns,” BPU president Robert Hanna said at the meeting in Trenton.
PSE&G spokeswoman Karen Johnson said the taller, sturdier poles are required because the circuit lines the poles support must be a certain distance apart. “There are no practical alternatives,” she said. The project in that part of Bergen County will run through Fair Lawn, Glen Rock, Ridgewood, Paramus, Oradell, New Milford, Dumont and Bergenfield. No other community has opposed the work.
The BPU rejected Ridgewood’s stated objections to the project, but scolded PSE&G for never informing residents or village officials in advance about the pending work. Recent major storms, like Hurricane Sandy in which New Jersey’s utilities were criticized for failure to update its customers about mass outages, showed the importance of communication, Hanna said.
For the current project, while PSE&G received approval from by grid operator PJM Interconnection as part of the Regional Transmission Expansion Plan to address overloads, PSE&G never secured road permits from Ridgewood that were required.
“We’re not talking about rocket science here,” Commissioner Joseph Fiordaliso said. “You can short-circuit a lot of problems by communicating, telling people what’s going to happen…That should be a matter of protocol. Communicate to the municipality and to the individuals who are going to be directly affected.”
Johnson, of PSE&G, wrote in an email, “this experience has reinforced to us the importance of communications with the communities in which we are building and upgrading facilities. We have already implemented some improvements in our outreach process and will continue to look at ways to improve the process to better assure that communities understand the rationale for projects and to allay any health and safety concerns in advance.”
In response to the board’s decision, Ridgewood Mayor Paul Aronsohn said he was disappointed, and reiterated his call for underground lines.
“The increasing frequency of destructive storms combined with the increasing demand for electricity suggests that the ‘business-as-usual’ approach — more poles with higher voltage — must be revisited.” he wrote in an email.