Ahead of Jersey Central Power and Light's public meeting concerning its controversial Monmouth County Reliability Project (MCRP), Representative Frank Pallone (D-6) issues a demand that the company simply, and definitively, withdraw the proposal and start all over.

Flickr User Claudio Schwarz

The public meeting takes place January 25, 7 PM, in the auditorium of Middletown High School North. Spoken and written comments enter the public record regarding the proposal.

The 230,000-volt proposal involves overhead lines running 10 miles along NJ Transit's North Jersey Coast rail right of way, from Aberdeen to Red Bank, through Hazlet, Holmdel, and Middletown in between.

The Long Branch Democrat doesn't dispute the need for energy reliability. He, and numerous opponents, take issue with the method, and insist that there are more efficient ways to meet demand, and at lower cost - for the company, and for rate payers.

In addiition to costs, residents along the line fear impacts on environment, health, and property values. It's garnered fierce opposition on multiple levels, from grassroots neighborhood alliances to Assemblywoman Amy Handlin (R-13), Pallone, and Representative Chris Smith (R-4).

In 2016, State Senators Jennifer Beck (R-11) and Joe Kyrillos (R-13), with towns along the route in their districts, introduced three resolutions to stop the project. New Jersey's Rate Counsel, and Pallone, have suggested technologically-feasible alternatives.

Pallone insists that energy reliability can be produced with equal efficiency at much lower cost than MCRP.

"The estimated cost is over $100,000,000, which, of course, the consumers would have to pay for," Pallone said.

"There are devices now that allow you to use solar panels along the distribution line...or there are ways of controlling the voltage, the amount of power going through at a given time...There's a lot of new, innovative ways of delivering electricity that have dome along in the last 10 years."

JCP&L 's contention all along has been that the project is necessary to meet rising demand stemming from increasingly-dense development.

First Energy spokesman Scott Surgeoner pointed out PJM, operator of the grid that serves the region, recommended the project, and expects it to be operable by June 2019.

"The population in the area has reached 214,000," Surgeoner said. "PJM is specifically looking for [MCRP] to maintain adequate energy supplies with a reduced risk of interruptions."

Exactly how does MCRP accomplish this? Greater capacity and storage capability, according to Surgeoner. "Transmission allows you to bring bulk power to distribution substations, and then it's distributed along streets, to a customer's residence, a restaurant, an industry, whatever it may be."

Unquestionably, northern Monmouth has grown in population and commerce, and is still evolving in terms of industry. Massive shopping centers have eclipsed factory space, and the vast Fort Monmouth acreage is being marketed for multiple uses.

Congressman Pallone's letter to JCP&L President James Fakult

The rail path is only one of several routes that were considered, and the one that First Energy's siting consultants determined to be most efficient.

"You look at all sorts of environmental impacts, residential impacts, water impacts, all kinds of land use impacts," Surgeoner said. "When you build a transmission line, you try to pick a route that minimizes the impact, to the best of your ability."

Grove Pashley, Getty Images

Pallone, for the past six months, and the Rate Counsel, within the past week, concluded that no alternatives were seriously evaluated.

"This is an old-fashioned method of dealing with reliability," Pallone said. "Given all the impacts it has on the area, we just think that the power company is not being very innovative, and is looking at outdated means of trying to ensure reliability."

"We did have a very extensive siting process," he continued. "We did take feedback from the public. We did take feedback from a number of folks, and ended up with a recommended route, which is what we filed with the Board of Public Utilities last year."

JCP&L took the Rate Counsel's recommendations under advisement, Surgeoner said.

"We looked at a variety of alternatives, and determined that our proposed project addresses the electrical reliability need in Monmouth County with the least impact on the community and the environment." The multiple routes, and PJM's recommendations, were packaged in the plan submitted to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU).

Pallone suggests that the alternatives consisted of routes, such as lines along the Parkway or Route 35, not technologies.

The dichotomy entered Pallone's diatribe before the BPU several months ago, when JCP&L proposed a separate subsidiary for power-transmission purposes, which also drew Rate Counsel's opposition.

"I went to the BPU, personally, to speak against that," he said. "And in the context of it, I brought up all these arguments about the transmission lines. They did actually withdraw their application for this separate transmission subsidiary."

Another argument Pallone set forth is the lack of approvals by NJ Transit. "[They] don't seem to be any closer to approving use of their right-of-way," he said. "We have all the opposition from communities. It just seems to me that the time has come for JCP&L to just scrap this, and come up with some alternative."

"I know they want to go through this whole process with the Board of Public Utilities, but I think, more and more, we're finding that they haven't seriously looked at any alternatives. So, they shouldn't be trying to push this thing, without any real support."

JCP&L proposed a comparable project in Hazlet more than two decades ago, and eventually withdrew it under withering opposition. Pallone, Kyrillos and Beck are among those who contend that the company hasn't thoroughly investigated technological advances before settling on an updated version of an outdated method.

Regardless, the company is not bowing to pressure. "Jersey Central Power and Light is committed to delivering quality, reliable electric service to our customers. That is our job, that is our commitment," Surgeoner said. "There is a definitive need for additional transmission capacity in that particular area of Monmouth County, identified by PJM. It makes no sense to just say, 'Scrap the project.'"

In response, and in view of the similar, aborted proposal more than two decades ago, Pallone said, "I think there's ample precedent for saying, 'Look, you threw this out there without a lot of thought. You need to go back to the drawing board."

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