ELIZABETH, NJ – Union County’s freeholder board is weighing in on a controversy surrounding the anticipated installation of taller utility poles and more powerful electric lines.

The freeholders are considering a formal measure supporting municipal officials’ efforts to relocate PSE&G’s high voltage power lines and create a period of public comment before the utility installs the more powerful lines. The project is something PSE&G says it must do to increase the reliability of its electric grid.

The utility has already installed the 65-foot-tall poles and 69-kilovolt lines in Union Township and plans to install the new lines along South Avenue in Westfield and in portions of Cranford, where residents have raised significant concerns. This segment of the project would also run through Scotch Plains, Fanwood and Garwood, the utility has said.

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The freeholder board is anticipated to vote on the resolution May 16.

“It’s saying that we support the municipalities in their efforts to decide what’s the best thing to do with PSE&G’s high voltage power lines,” said Freeholder Chair Bette Jane Kowalski at Thursday’s board meeting. “PSE&G, apparently, feels that it’s important to increase their voltage, given the demand for power in our area, and they have proposed increasing the voltage along the lines in certain areas.”

Kowalski said residents have voiced their concerns about the plan and asked the municipalities to consider encouraging the company to change their plans. “We support that effort, and ask for more public input,” Kowalski said.

Resident outreach prompted the resolution, Freeholder Christopher Hudak said.

“We received a number of emails from residents in Cranford and Westfield, who were concerned about the placement of the lines,” Hudak said. “We are supporting the municipalities in their effort to get answers for their residents.”

“It’s a concern of a number of the residents, regarding the upgrade and the ability to provide more information and transparency,” he added.

Kowalski and Hudak are two of the resolution’s three original sponsors, along with Freeholder Kimberly Palmieri-Mouded. During the meeting, Freeholders Andrea Staten and Rebecca Williams requested that their names be added to the resolution as well.

Freeholder Angel Estrada requested more information about the resolution, including why only three freeholders were listed as sponsors on the resolution. “Where does that leave the rest of the board? Are we just silent on it?” Estrada asked.

“This was brought up in a conversation between freeholder [Mouded], chair Kowalski, and myself,” Hudak said in response. “If anyone would like to join in on the resolution, we welcome people to the resolution.”

Estrada also weighed in on the resolution and the controversy surrounding PSE&G’s plans.

“We may have a bigger role in saying something about the cell tower in Cranford than we do about the Public Service Electric and Gas Company higher voltage,” Estrada said. “In both of those cases, I truly believe there is a need to have this capability, because if you don’t have enough voltage, then guess what? When the power goes out, or too much consumption, then you have problems.”

Hudak agreed in part with Estrada but still said the resolution is needed to increase transparency from the company.

“I agree that there very well may be a need for it,” Hudak said. “I also believe that PSE&G should be accessible to the municipalities and be providing information to the residents. And that’s really what the resolution is requesting.”

PSE&G’s plans to upgrade its infrastructure in Cranford and Westfield continue to face fierce opposition from area residents.

As reported, PSE&Gs second plan to run taller utility poles and more powerful electric lines through Westfield has prompted a second online petition opposing the proposal. Meanwhile, representatives from PSE&G informed Cranford residents of a planned infrastructure upgrade last month.

The upgrades would include the installation of a new power station at 750 Walnut Avenue, the location of a proposed apartment complex in Cranford. Under PSE&G’s proposal, an aging electric substation in Clark would be taken out of service and replaced with the new one in Cranford.

“These upgrades are needed to address the demand for electric reliability throughout PSE&G’s service territory,” said PSE&G in an April news release. “PSE&G is charged with providing safe, adequate and proper electric service to its customers, as well as upgrading the system as needed for reliable service. In the course of fulfilling those obligations, PSE&G regularly conducts system upgrades and improvements.”

“PSE&G will work with municipal officials to minimize any disruptions and coordinate traffic flow during construction,” the company said. “We will also communicate any disruptions directly with impacted customers.”

What’s next?

The freeholder board is anticipated to vote on this and other resolutions at its Thursday, May 16, meeting at 7 p.m. at 10 Elizabethtown Plaza in Elizabeth.

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