Placing the wires underground typically costs seven times more than placing them above ground, a director for PSE&G said.

WESTFIELD, NJ — The design approved by the regional electric grid operator PJM Interconnection is to build a new power substation in Cranford, take a burdened substation in Clark out of service and connect the new station to the grid with 69-kilovolt lines, plans show.

The intended result is a more reliable electric network, which transfers electricity from the nearby “heavily loaded” stations to the new more reliable network, according to PSE&G’s plans presented to the regional grid operator. Plans approved earlier this year show PSE&G’s intent to invest $146 million in the project and bring the new lines into service for 2023.

Sign Up for E-News

There’s one catch. The project would run a 69-kilovolt line the length of South Avenue in Westfield from the town’s border with Scotch Plains to its border with Garwood, something that has some residents and local officials deeply concerned. PSE&G representatives sought to address that concern April 10 with a workshop at Edison Intermediate School attended by about 115 people.

Bob Felton, director of transmission for PSE&G, said that the Clark substation is about 75 years old, serves about 3,000 customers in Westfield and the station is at the end of its life. While some members of the public in Westfield are lobbying for underground wires as a way to avoid installations of taller poles, Felton said, PSE&G rarely puts its infrastructure underground.

“Overhead has some advantages,” Felton said. “When it fails you can see it. You can fix it quickly. When it’s underground, you don’t know where it is. You have to find it before you can fix it. Everyone thinks underground is a golden answer. It is not a golden answer.”

Then there is the cost. “It’s roughly seven times more expensive to put it underground,” Felton said. Installing one mile of overhead wires costs about $1 million; one mile of underground wires, Felton said, would cost $7 million.

The figures are rough estimates because of the uncertainty that comes with running wires underground, he said. “You never know what you’re going to encounter with underground obstructions. You think you’re going to go this way, and then you have to go that way.”

Residents in attendance at the workshop, however, were skeptical of the plan for overhead wires, which would have PSE&G replace existing poles with 65-foot-tall poles, adding about 15 feet to the height of existing poles and placing the more powerful transmission wires on top of them.

Debing Zeng, who lives with his family on Hyslip Avenue, said he would be willing to pay extra to have the lines buried underground. “I want them to have a detailed plan showing how we’re going to pay for it,” Zeng said.

“If you put the high voltage power poles on the street, I don’t have to tell you that you’re going to have to cut trees,” he said. “It would not be beautiful. Our town would be forever damaged.”

The latest plan would require PSE&G to remove 24 trees and trim 24 more, said Jay Kaplan, a supervisor with the PSE&G vegetation management group. The utility, however, plans to plant afterward.

“For every tree we remove, we would be looking to plant two,” Kaplan said. “They would be utility friendly. Trees that don’t grow too tall into the wires.”

What About EMFs?

Key among the resident concerns expressed has been that the higher voltage wires run past a daycare center on South Avenue, Cradles to Crayons.

Kyle King, an electrical engineer hired by PSE&G, said the electric and magnetic fields, which the higher voltage wires generate, known as EMFs, are not something for the public to fear. Buildings and trees, King said, easily shield people from the electric fields.

“People think 69,000 volts is a very large number,” King said. “But the current that is flowing along the wires is comparable the current that would flow to a home.” And the magnetic fields emanating from the 69 kV lines are comparable to the background level of electricity that his already existing in homes, schools and businesses, he said.

PSE&G spokeswoman Karen Johnson noted that the updated lines proposed for South Avenue, while running adjacent to the daycare, are not immediately next to it. “The daycare facilities on South Avenue are on the opposite side of the street from the electric line,” Johnson said.

Recognizing consumer concern about EMFs, however, the utility provides a service that measures electric and magnetic fields within homes.

“PSE&G provides this service as means of educating customers and residents that are often ill-informed regarding EMF,” the utility said. “Requests can be made through normal channels, including PSE&G’s customer inquiry center number shown on their bill.”

The new lines would run in front of Outta Hand Pizza on South Avenue, among dozens of other shops and restaurants. The owner of that pizzeria, Burim Regjaj, is concerned about what the construction would do to his business. Detours and fears about electromagnetic radiation could cut into the profits of his small business if fewer customers visit, he said.

“I already work within a small profit margin,” Regjaj said. “If only a few people stop coming to my shop, I’ll have to close.”

Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh

MORE: PSE&G Swaps Power Pole Plan After Strident Objections in Westfield

MORE: PSE&G: Things for Westfield to Know About Power Pole Plan

MORE: Protests Continue, Even as PSE&G Mulls Alternate Power Line Plan