CRANFORD — After months of review, PSE&G has determined that it would be impractical to locate its 69kV project along the Conrail tracks through Scotch Plains, Westfield, Clark and Cranford.
Representatives of PSE&G met with state, local and county elected officials on Friday morning in Cranford to discuss the study’s findings, something that comes amid intense public scrutiny of initial plans that would have placed taller power poles and more powerful electric wires through the towns.
Key for PSE&G is the ability to secure property for an electrical substation, something the utility had been negotiating with the developer Hartz Mountain for at 750 Walnut Avenue, PSE&G Director of Projects Gino Leonardis said. It now appears those negotiations have stalled.
“We’re talking about routes and we’re talking about location [of a substation]. If you don't have a secured location, it’s very difficult to come up with a route. They work hand in hand,” Leonardis said. “There was just a point where we didn’t feel that the two pieces would be able to come together in a timely fashion.”
Then there’s the cost to divert the line to the Conrail tracks.
PSE&G spokesman Mike Jennings said routing the line so a portion of it runs along the railroad tracks would cost over $100 million — more than three times the cost of the street route.
“Building along the railroad would significantly complicate construction and would require frequent rail service interruption,” Jennings said in a statement. “In addition, PSE&G’s project could interfere with Conrail’s future plans to add a third rail, which could result in having to move poles and other equipment”
David Krieger, in a statement for the advocacy group, No Monster Power Lines — Westfield, said Friday that his group is not celebrating.
“PSE&G will begin exploring other sites for a substation, and once it identifies a site, it will develop new 69kV routes to that substation. While this may appear like a temporary victory, we aren’t doing any celebrating yet.
“It is critically important to remember that in March of this year, until our community rose up in protest, PSE&G was literally on the verge of erecting these high-voltage lines along an entirely residential route in Westfield, in front of 500 homes, Edison Middle School, parks and playgrounds and our town pool — cutting down or scaling back more than 100 mature trees in the process.”
The project is part of PSE&G’s statewide program to improve the reliability of its electric system by upgrading its utility infrastructure to meet the 21st century needs of its customers, according to the utility. These upgrades include replacing the existing 26,000-volt network that was built more than 50 years ago with a modern 69,000-volt network, the utility said.
Though the plan to run the line along the railroad tracks is off the table, PSE&G Regional Public Affairs Manager Michael Coyle said that the plan to run the line along the streets is also on hold as they look for an alternate location for a new substation.
A current substation in Clark is set to be taken out of commission. Earlier plans called for a new substation to be constructed on a parcel of the 750 Walnut Avenue property, but Coyle said negotiations with Hartz Mountain, owner of the 750 Walnut Property, have fallen through.
“At this point, we’ve basically stopped negotiating with [Hartz Mountain],” said Coyle.
Cranford Mayor Patrick Giblin, Garwood Mayor Sara Todisco and Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle in a joint statement announced they received notification from PSE&G that its 69 kV project has been placed on “indefinite hold” due to ongoing logistical challenges.
“Today’s announcement reaffirms that our united position among the three municipalities is being heard by PSE&G,” Giblin said. “I’m grateful that their ongoing evaluation of this project will continue to prioritize the input of our communities.”
“I want to thank the many residents, business owners and government officials on multiple levels who took the time to research this issue and share their feedback, demonstrating the power of community engagement on issues that matter to all of us,” Brindle said.
“I’m pleased that PSE&G continues to keep the lines of communication open throughout their ongoing due diligence in seeking a suitable alternative, and I remain committed to working with them alongside Mayors Giblin and Todisco to ensure a favorable outcome.”
“We are sensitive to the concerns that residents have voiced," Jennings said in an email to TAPinto. “We will work the affected communities as we continue to evaluate potential routes looking for a cost-effective solution that minimizes local impacts. Once a route has been identified, we will communicate the decision in a timely fashion.”