The Susquehanna to Roseland Transmission Line Proposal

by Anna Maria Caldara, March 2012

(Ed Note: Sadly, the construction of the transmission line through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area commenced in 2014. Information from EarthJustice, which handled litigation to prevent this, here.)

The Resource
From its headwaters in the Catskill Mountains of New York, the Delaware River rambles 330 miles to join the Atlantic Ocean. As the last free-flowing river on the eastern seaboard, it courses through one of the largest open spaces remaining in the metropolitan New York area.
This greenway corridor is the drainage land for all, or portions of, 42 counties and 838 municipalities within New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Fifteen million people draw their drinking water from the river. Additionally, the long watershed provides essential habitat for hundreds of plant and animal species.
The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (DWGNRA) was established in 1965, for the “preservation of the scenic, scientific, and historic features contributing to public enjoyment of such lands and waters.” (Public Law 89-158; 89th. Congress H.R.89.) More than 60 million people live within a 6-hour drive of the Park. Their outdoor enjoyment is enhanced by canoeing, hiking, fishing, and photography amidst stunning wilderness vistas.
The forty miles of river within the DWGNRA was designated as the Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River (MDSR) in 1968. As part of the Wild and Scenic Rivers system, this portion of the Delaware and its aesthetic, scenic, historic, archaeological, and scientific features must be protected.
The Appalachian Trail, a 2,179-mile footpath from Maine to Georgia, crosses the DWGNRA. It winds for 25 miles from Mt. Minsi, Pennsylvania to Stokes State Forest in Branchville, New Jersey.
The Delaware Water Gap and its surrounding woodlands were originally called “Lenapehocking”, or “Land of the Lenape.” They were inhabited for over 13,000 years by people who utilized rock shelters and honored the Great Spirit. Stone cairns, tools, and trees bent as directional and ceremonial markers speak of their ancient presence.
Examples of 19th century European farm houses and lime kilns are also scattered throughout this region. A re-created mid-1800s town, Millbrook Village, lies within the DWGNRA. Even an 18th century dwelling remains. “Lonecroft,” in Stillwater, New Jersey, is believed to be the sole surviving example of a flurkuchenhaus (hall-kitchen house) in the northwestern part of the state. Erected in 1790, its center through-hall served as the kitchen.
The clean streams and abundant forests of the DWGNRA foster sensitive habitats for rare and threatened species. The Indiana bat and dwarf red wedge mussel (a clam) are categorized as “Endangered;” the reclusive bog turtle is “Threatened.” In order to play their part in the ecosystem, the environment of these imperiled species must be maintained.
Visitors to the DWGNRA experience the beauty of a lush natural setting. They are emotionally renewed by the glacial outcroppings, hardwood stands, and rippling rivers. The importance of this national park to present and future generations cannot be overstated. Yet the stability of the DWGNRA and its bordering counties is being challenged…by need or greed?
The Proposal
In 2007, PJM Interconnection (PJM) stated that an expansion of an existing transmission line was necessary. PJM is the Regional Transmission Operator that oversees electricity movement over a 13-state region, which includes New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Power and Light (PP&L) and Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) of New Jersey responded with a plan to “strengthen the reliability of the grid.” (National Park Service Scoping Newsletter, January 2010)
Their plan required replacing existing 69-230 kV power lines with 500 kV, between Berwick, Pennsylvania and Roseland, New Jersey—a distance of 130 miles. The 500 kV lines are capable of carrying 1000-1500 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about one and a half-million homes. The power companies declared that only such a tremendous upgrade would prevent overloads in the system. Also, higher voltage is more efficient for long-distance bulk electricity transmission.
To accomplish the upgrade, wooden 80’ power line poles must be removed. (These rise about 30’ higher than a two-story home.) Erected in their stead would be steel poles soaring to 200 or more feet—with double circuit, gargantuan power lines designed to conduct high voltage.
The variation in size between the old and new structures, as well as the surge in electricity transmission, means that existing right-of-ways (ROWS) would have to be widened. Significant clearing of trees would occur between 150 and 300 feet on all sides of the new towers. To facilitate this, trees that have stood for decades would be stripped for the construction of access roads. Maintenance entrances currently in use also have to be expanded, eliminating more forest.
Why is the line starting in Berwick, Pennsylvania? The PP&L Susquehanna Nuclear Generating Station operates there. It is undergoing renovation as the power source from which the electricity would stem.
According to Nancy Shukaitis, founder of Delaware Valley Conservation Association, the National Energy Policy Act of 2005 guarantees loans for nuclear reactors and “clean coal initiatives.” It “seeks to increase coal as an energy source while reducing air pollution.” Therefore, although the Department of Energy is obligated to “study and report” on renewable energy like wind, solar, waves, and tides, transmission line routes begin at coal mines or nuclear reactors.
The Susquehanna to Roseland route is a small section of the 900-mile Mid-Atlantic-U.S. transmission line corridor. The corridor embraces 13 states, including New Jersey, and 52 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. East coast cities receive power from aging, dirty fossil fuel burners which worsen global warming. Meanwhile, renewable alternatives are underfunded by the government.
The National Park Service (NPS)
A 4.18 mile section of the current transmission line crosses the DWGNRA, the MDSR, and the Appalachian Trail. Thus, PP&L and PSE&G need construction and right-of-way permits from the National Park Service. In consideration of their proposal, the NPS has undertaken an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS.) The draft EIS was issued in 2011, with a Final EIS and Record of Decision projected for approval in 2012.
The NPS has stated that it must examine the proposal against the statutes, regulations, and policies that created DWGNRA. Then it will decide whether or not to grant the applicants’ permits.
Issues being studied in the EIS are: Natural Resources (rare, threatened, and endangered species and habitats; migratory birds; landscape connectivity; wetlands, floodplains, and streams; infestation of invasive species; rare communities); Paleontological and Geological Resources; Scenic Resources and Viewsheds; Cultural Resources and National Register of Historic Places Eligibility; Socioeconomic/Community Impacts; Maintaining Visitor Experience; Park Operations; and, Health and Safety of Visitors and Staff.
Preliminary Alternatives
The applicants’ plan proposed a variety of alternatives for the proposed powerline path . One of the alternatives, called “No Action,” has been designated as the environmentally preferred action by the National Park Service in its draft EIS.
The “No Action” choice means that the existing 230 kV power lines traversing the Park would be maintained as is, with no major changes, and the applicants’ request for permits would be denied. This is the alternative endorsed by MAPLE (Multi-State Alliance Promoting Lasting Energy), a coalition formed to stop fossil fuel use along the Delaware River. (A helpful listing of organizations working to support the “No Action” alternative is listed at the end of this page.)
All of the other proposed alternative routes for the power line would significantly disrupt ecosystems in Pike and Monroe counties, Pennsylvania, and Warren and Sussex counties in New Jersey.
The No Action plan has been overwhelmingly endorsed by a wide range of individuals and organizations that appeared at January, 2012 local hearings held by the National Park Service. Nevertheless, on October 6, 2011 President Obama urged that the Susquehanna to Roseland (S-R) Transmission Line be fast-tracked. He based this decision on the need for long-term jobs and renewable energy.
However, S-R will cripple green energy strides, as taxpayer dollars will be invested in old nuclear and coal facilities. These polluting technologies are not a step towards a sustainable future, as regional micro-grid options would be.
The fast-tracking of S-R undermines the National Park Service’s (NPS) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the proposal, which is due in January of 2013. It also puts into question the integrity of the public commenting process, where over 6000 public comments that were submitted for the NPS’s consideration.
The Sierra Club and other environmental groups are challenging the need for S-R in the New Jersey Court of Appeals. (The Sierra Club, “Obama Sides with Coal Over Clean Energy,” 10/7/11)
Demand for Electricity Decreasing
The Mid-Atlantic-U.S. transmission line carries a price tag of $8-10 billion dollars. This cost is borne by the rate payers. “Its installation comes at a time when the use of electricity is decreasing,” said Nancy Shukaitis.
The applicants claim that without the upgrade, brown-outs will occur. However, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, electricity demand is projected to rise only 1.5% over the next 20 years. The new line will increase transmission over the previous one by 750%. “This is way out of balance,” insisted Martha Carbone of Shawnee Preservation Society. “The power companies have failed to show a true need for this line.”
Ms. Carbone also disagreed with the applicants’ statement that it is more efficient to transmit greater amounts of electricity over a long line. “This results in loss of power due to resistance, which is inefficient,” she said. “Microgrids—local generation and use—are better.”
The Susquehanna to Roseland proposal allows the applicants to generate electricity at older, dirty coal and nuclear plants. Customers are charged to build the new line, and the applicants sell the power at a premium price in the New York metropolitan area.
Dave Slaperud of Stop the Lines, a local grassroots group opposed to the new line, agreed. “PSE&G is strategically creating a need for more energy by shutting down local generation, in an attempt to get this line approved,” he related. “But even in their attempts to create a need, demand has been dropping precipitously due to people using less power, more efficient appliances being sold, and demand- response programs being implemented.”
Research available through Stop the Lines shows that PSE&G makes a 12% return on all monies spent trying to promote the S-R line. PP&L accumulates a similar return on spending. “They make that 12% whether the line ultimately goes through or not,” Slaperud explained. “Copious amounts of energy are not a solution to reliability issues in the grid. It’s simply a way for the applicants to make money. The cost to residents in lost property values, visual impacts, health concerns, and safety would be enormous.”
Government, industry and independent analyses have demonstrated that cost-effective efficiency improvements could reduce electricity use by 27-75% nationally within 10-20 years, without impacting quality of life or manufacturing output. Cutting U.S. energy use by a mere 5% would rank Americans in the current efficiency class of Japan and Europe. As the grass roots trend is to maximize conservation, electricity demand would decrease over time. This presents an opportunity for communities and regions to explore micro-grid options.
Interestingly, PSE&G issued a report in September of 2010 entitled, “The Role of Transmission in the Clean Energy Economy.” It states that local, renewable sources of power should be favored over new transmission projects. Regarding the growing market for solar in New Jersey, the report admits, “Deployment of this locally distributed renewable energy source would reduce the need for transmission lines from remote locations.”
The report was a response to PSE&G’s opposition to a federal transmission superhighway, which would bring wind and solar power from the mid-west to the east and west coasts. “Environmentalists are disillusioned by the applicants’ claims that local sources of renewable energy and increased efficiency measures are viable alternatives to some transmission projects, but are somehow inappropriate with regard to Susquehanna-Roseland,” asserted Kate Millsaps of the Sierra Club. “This report entirely contradicts statements made to regulators that local renewable power should not be evaluated as possible alternatives to expanding S-R.”
Environmental and Health Impacts
Existing power lines within the DWGNRA are essentially “backgrounded”; i.e., they do not exceed the height of the encircling landscape. Visitors gazing at hills would likely not notice these structures conveying electricity.
The S-R line would surpass the forest canopy. The 200’ towers would dominate scenic vistas from waterways, hiking trails, and historic sites. The “skylining” visibility of the elevated towers means that background vegetation could no longer absorb their visual impact. In fact, they will be noticeable up to 20 miles away. This intrusion will be intensified by patches of bare land, clearcut for access roads and right-of-ways.
The Delaware River is designated as “scenic” at the point where the S-R towers would loom. Under the provisions of the Wild and Scenic River Act, their presence would violate this stewardship agreement. Kayakers and canoeists will hear electricity buzzing through the high voltage lines. What effect will these massive electromagnetic fields have on visitors and wildlife?
High voltage towers are notorious for electrocuting migratory birds, or causing death by collision. Eagles, red-tailed hawks, and Great Horned owls are the raptors most commonly killed by power lines. All of these birds nest in the DWGNRA.
If the towers are approved for the Park, Hogback Ridge would be in their path. The Ridge straddles the Pennsylvania side of the river, south of Bushkill. It is a vital link in the biodiversity chain of the Commonwealth. This precious ecosystem is characterized by limestone shelves. Northern hardwoods and eastern hemlock thrive here, as do plants that favor limestone, like walking fern. Vast wetlands and dry sand belts fill the lower elevations. The variation in habitat means that many different plant and animal species can co-exist here, increasing biological diversity.
Tributaries and brooks within the Park support several species of fish. These will be destroyed when nearby dynamite blasting dislodges soil.
Properties along, or close to, the proposed S-R line will lose value, as the nature of the DWGNRA is irreparably changed.
Present Status
The NPS EIS Final Draft is expected in the fall of 2012. Meanwhile, PSE&G announced in August of 2010 that construction on the S-R line would be delayed until 2013. The Applicants (PP&L and PSE&G) have only received conditional approvals from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. They still must acquire permits and approvals from governmental bodies throughout the proposed S-R route, and other Federal agencies.
The Delaware Water Gap, sacred homeland of the Lenape, is now a national recreation area. Its streams, forests, and wetlands are protected for the enjoyment of all.
The plants and animals within the Park and the surrounding bioregion depend on us to safeguard their territory. Nests, lodges, dens, and tunnels will vanish under the treads of the bulldozer. MAPLE and concerned individuals have demonstrated that electricity demand is decreasing, contrary to the Applicants’ claims. The S-R line is unnecessary. Therefore, not only the DWGNA, but all the Preliminary Alternative routes deserve exemption from the Susquehanna to Roseland proposal.
Organizations Opposing the S-R Transmission Line
We encourage you to explore these organizations and subscribe to their ongoing alerts and other advocacy efforts. We are doing the same.
* Sierra Club of New Jersey
* Delaware Riverkeeper
* Save the Park
* Stop the Lines
*New Jersey Highlands Coalition
*National Park Service, Appalachian Trail
*National Park Service, Delaware Water Gap
*MAPLE  [The Multi-State Alliance Promoting Lasting Energy consists of the following local grass roots groups: Save the Park, Stop the Lines, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the New Jersey Highlands Coalition, Clean Air Council, Environmental Integrity Group, Alliance for Sustainable Communities – Lehigh Valley, Genesis Farm and the Delaware Riverkeeper.]