Congressman Pallone Sends Letter Raising Serious Concerns over JCP&L’s Monmouth County Reliability Project
Long Branch, NJ - Today, Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06) sent a letter to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities voicing his concerns over Jersey Central Power and Light’s (JCP&L) proposal for the Monmouth County Reliability Project (MCRP). The plan for JCP&L’s new transmission line would impact Aberdeen, Hazlet and Middletown in Pallone’s district and run along New Jersey Transit’s North Jersey Coast line. Many residents have argued that the project is unnecessary and potentially harmful to the public health, environment, and economy of their communities.
The text of the letter can be found below:
New Jersey Board of Public Utilities
44 South Clinton Avenue
Trenton, NJ 08625
I write regarding serious concerns I have with the Jersey Central Power and Light’s (JCP&L) recently submitted application to construct the Monmouth County Reliability Project (MCRP). As the Congressman representing 3 of the towns the project impacts, and thousands of the residents, it is incumbent on me to raise a number of issues.
The MCRP is reminiscent of a similar project proposed some 25 years ago that residents of Hazlet Township strongly opposed before it was withdrawn. Since JCP&L announced this project, I have been contacted by residents of Hazlet and other affected communities in my district who believe the project to be unnecessary, as well as potentially harmful to the public health, environment, and economy of their communities.
JCP&L has stated that the reason for the MCRP is “to enhance service and modernize the electric system.” However, project skeptics rightly question whether blowing the dust off these old plans is the best way to accomplish these goals. While the regulatory standards for what constitutes reliability may not have changed since 1898, the technology by which we can achieve reliability has transformed dramatically. In the 1980’s, redundant transmission lines may have been the only way to guarantee reliability, but that is hardly the case in the 21st century.
It is time to start looking at reliability and resiliency in different ways than we did in the last century. We must modernize our electricity system to make it more resilient. We can now do that by incorporating technologies to manage demand and by generating and storing power closer to where it is consumed, through use of batteries and distributed generation resources including renewables like rooftop solar. These can be connected by microgrids and isolated-lower voltage lines that move electricity locally to neighborhoods and homes – that is the most vulnerable part of the grid, and not the larger transmission system. If the distribution lines are down, it doesn’t matter how many transmission lines we have because the power cannot get to the consumer. Hurricane Sandy showed us that centralized power carried by lines over great distances does not guarantee reliability or a resilient grid.
In addition, we must also reexamine the way we calculate rates and how utilities make money. Utilities should be able to make money, but the old rate-making model rewards utilities for building too many of yesterday’s capital facilities that do not maximize reliability and resiliency when better options are available today. Those new lines could also have the effect of locking in a market for older fossil fuel generation while crowding out cleaner and less expensive options for generating power and ensuring reliability.
My constituents are requesting more details regarding the potential dangers posed to their families by electric and magnetic fields. They also question the planned route for the MCRP, along New Jersey Transit’s North Jersey Coast Line, using existing NJ Transit rights-of-way. This route would go from Aberdeen to Red Bank, cutting through the towns of Hazlet, Holmdel, and Middletown. In order for JCP&L to construct on this planned route, it must obtain permission from NJ Transit which has not yet been granted. JCP&L claims to have considered several alternative routes in favor of the preferred route, but it is not clear why the alternatives were rejected, or why these lines cannot be buried on all or part of the route. In fact, according to statements by JCP&L Transmission Planning Manager Lawrence A. Hozempa as part of the company’s August 9, 2016 filing with the BPU, it appears that the company rejected a number of other alternatives mainly because they involved routing the new line through existing transmission rights-of-way. This seems to fly in the face of economic prudence and efficiency and JCP&L fails to provide sufficient justification for the significant added costs and marginal benefits involved with the proposed route as opposed to some of the other alternatives considered. Further, the company explicitly admits that it failed to consider any non-transmission alternatives to the proposed project; this strikes me as particularly imprudent given the continued significant decline in electricity demand that has occurred since 2011 when the issues that gave rise to this proposal were first identified.
The preceding points are all the more disconcerting given that JCP&L recently proposed transferring all of JCP&L’s transmission assets, potentially to include the MCRP if constructed, to another company - Mid-Atlantic Interstate Transmission (MAIT) - which is a subsidiary of FirstEnergy. I offered a statement at the August 20, 2016 hearing about this proposal. I stated that I shared the concerns raised by the Board and the Rate Counsel about this proposed transfer, including whether MAIT would even be subject to New Jersey authority, the impact of the transfer on ratepayers and how the transfer could change the company’s priorities going forward. While I was heartened by JCP&L’s withdrawal of the transfer application in September, there is no guarantee that the company will not refile in the future.
When making its decision on the MCRP, I respectfully request that the Board seriously consider whether the project would actually increase reliability in Monmouth County, the impact the project would have on the communities along the route, and how this proposal would be impacted by system wide efforts of FirstEnergy.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
FRANK PALLONE, JR.
Member of Congress