National Park Service OKs transmission line on park lands

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The National Park Service has given its final approval to a proposed high-voltage electric transmission line that would cross public lands in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River as well as the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

The 500 kilovolt transmission line, known as the Susquehanna-Roseland line, has been proposed by utilities PPL Electric Utilities and Public Service Electric and Gas Co. It would run 145 miles from Susquehanna, Pennsylvania to Roseland, New Jersey.  Mid-Atlantic electric grid operator PJM, Inc. and national electric reliability organization NERC had called for the line to protect the grid's reliability by preventing existing power lines from facing overloaded conditions.  The line also received a fast-track review by federal agencies under the auspices of the Interagency Rapid Response Team for Transmission, a group formed to coordinate on an expedited review of transmission projects designed to increase grid reliability, integrate new renewable energy, and cut consumer costs.

While the line's route largely followed existing rights-of-way, environmentalists and park activists challenged the National Park Service's approval of expansions to the rights-of-way through these national parklands.  The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities' approval of the project was also challenged, on the grounds that the state board failed to give adequate consideration to non-transmission alternatives that could have met consumer demand, such as programs promoting demand response and energy efficiency.  That case remains pending.

On Monday, the National Park Service issued its record of decision approving the line (31-page PDF).  As a condition of approval, the NPS required the developing utilities to contribute at least $56 million to a
fund to mitigate the line's impacts on federal lands by purchasing or otherwise conserving land for public use, compensating for impacts to wetlands affected by the line, and funding cultural and historic preservation in the affected parks.

In a Facebook post issued yesterday, the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club vowed to challenge the NPS's approval of the line in court.  PPL and PSE&G plan to place the line in service by June 2015.

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