Thursday, August 28, 2014

PSEG | Toxic Pole March, N.J.-L.I., NY

PSEG advances on its communities like a wild rhino.
The PSEG PR fiasco in East Hampton raises the question: "Was this PSEG's first rodeo?" No, PSEG has been battling complaints about the poles in New Jersey a year ago and in the middle of Long Island at the beginning of 2014.

Based on its record of the past year, PSEG seems to take the view that its job is solely to expand the electricity-transmission capacity of New Jersey and Long Island, NY and this job gives it the right to override and transcend all existing local rights, regulations or responsibilities.

The tradition-proud leaderships of some villages in New Jersey and New York are stunned by what appears a charging rhinoceros through their grassland. PSEG has:
  • Ignored long-standing local environmental and planning processes,
  • Provided little or no notice of its arrival to install poles, either to the local governments or to affected individuals,
  • Installed super-tall poles (70 feet long, says the NY Times), widely viewed as eyesores,
  • Used poles treated with Penta (a "probable carcinogen", according to the US EPA).
  • Reduced the attractiveness of properties and therefore their values,
  • Added to existing 26 kV lines heavier 69 kV lines with new hazards,
  • Perhaps worst of all, proscribed local first-responders from touching the wires, thus impeding their ability to reach victims in emergencies and risking week-long delays in providing emergency services in hurricanes and storms.
Herewith a few pieces from the growing record of community insults.

Ridgewood, NJ - August 2013

Ridgewood Mayor Paul Aronsohn complained of PSEG's installing of 78 new wooden utility poles, 15 feet higher than standard poles, designed to withstand 130-mph winds. The project was halted as complaints mounted. Residents said:
The town needs to do more to rectify this situation. These poles need to be taken out. An eyesore to most, but they are more than just that, they are monstrosities. ... They’re twice the size of our houses. They could fall down, number one; number two, they’re not zoned to be that high, they should only be 35 feet.
In July, a tweeter wrote: "If Ridgewood NJ hates the new poles, let them go w/out power next storm.” PSEG retweeted the message to @PSEGCares and two other accounts with a total of 42,000 followers. Ridgewood Mayor Aronsohn said the retweets  “could be construed as a threat.” (Source: WCBS 880.)

Trenton, NJ - November 2013

PSEG was given a green light by the NJ Board of Public Utilities in Trenton to install the taller, higher-voltage utility poles. The Village of Ridgewood, NJ, had asked for the project to be halted because PSEG did not provide advance notice, was using higher-voltage lines without regard to the increased hazards in an emergency, and would lower property values in a community where the median home price exceeds $700,000).

BPU president Robert Hanna said he had "sympathy" for the citizens and the "aesthetic effect" of the project, but
 I don’t see the health and safety concerns. 
PSEG spokeswoman Karen Johnson said the cost of burying the lines would be too high.

In the wake of the decision, Ridgewood's Mayor said he was disappointed, and reiterated his call for underground lines: "The increasing frequency of destructive storms combined with the increasing demand for electricity suggests that the 'business-as-usual' approach — more poles with higher voltage — must be revisited."

BPU reprimanded PSEG for not giving residents or village officials advance warning about the pending work, and PSEG said they would reform:
  • BPU President Hanna observed that during Hurricane Sandy and other storms, NJ utilities had already been criticized for failure to update customers about mass outages. PSEG never secured required road permits from the Village of Ridgewood.
  • BPU Commissioner Joseph Fiordaliso said:  "We’re not talking about rocket science here. You can short-circuit a lot of problems by communicating ... to the municipality and to the individuals who are going to be directly affected."
  • PSEG spokeswoman Johnson promised to communicate better in a November 2013 email: "This experience has reinforced to us the importance of communications with the communities in which we are building and upgrading facilities. We ... will continue to look at ways to improve the process to better assure that communities understand the rationale for projects and to allay any health and safety concerns in advance."

Port Washington, NY - April 2014

In Port Washington, NY, the new poles rise high above the one-storey businesses along Port Washington Boulevard. The poles are 70 feet high, taller than the old utility poles that averaged 45 feet. PSEG has so far installed 200 of the approximately 220 poles it plans along the five-mile project route from Port Washington to Great Neck. Ten percent of the overhead transmission wire has been strung. Residents said:
  • We want to protect the identity of the town. The town should look good, and not ugly like this.
  • I’m petrified of this huge pole more than being without electricity.
  • It’s horrible. The issue is do it the right way, and give people the chance to pay... before you start putting it up.
Utilities can use public rights of way and may resort to eminent domain. Gerald A. Norlander of New York’s Utility Project, a consumer advocacy group said: “They can take a site and do what they want."  The NY state Department of Public Service can place limits, he said. As a result of community opposition, the Governor’s office has asked DPS to review the project.

The taller poles are stronger and more resilient in storms than the older poles, said David M. Daly, PSEG-Long Island's President and CEO, to a restless town meeting in Port Washington. The lines, he said, could be buried later, but that could cost millions more, and costs would be passed on to customers. He said: "There is no option to stop the project. ... You can do anything you want, as long as you want to pay for it."

But Judi Bosworth, the supervisor of the Town of North Hempstead, which includes the project route, wonders whether Hurricane Sandy recovery funds could be used:
It seems to me that burying the wires is something that could qualify, and we plan to make a strong case for that.
A spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Meenan, said hurricane money could be available if burying the lines would reduce the likelihood of future damage and was cost-efficient. (Source: Kia Gregory, "Utility Poles Generate Heat From Long Island Residents", NY Times, April 22, 2014.)

East Hampton, April 2014

In January, PSEG began installing a 23/33 kV transmission line and 267 of the 70-foot long and larger-diameter utility poles to cover six-and-a-half miles of transmission from East Hampton Village to Amagansett. The project was described as an  "upgrade" to provide "reliable" and "redundant" electricity under storm conditions. 

The project stopped in April when East Hampton Town issued a stop-work order at the Amagansett substation, for which PSEG failed to obtain site-plan approval or a building permit. PSEG filed a temporary restraining order, which was denied. It also filed for a permanent injunction against the town, about which a decision is awaited at the State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division in Brooklyn. East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said:
We wanted to be involved in the energy-alternative process, and not be handed a fait accompli. ... There could have been a better job of presenting this to the public for discussion, and perhaps alternatives could have worked out in advance of this happening.
Mr. Cantwell said East Hampton would not borrow money to bury the lines. He wanted PSEG to give East Hampton the same deal as the Town of Southampton, where PSEG paid for burying the lines by adding a charge to customers’ bills. Some customers have not paid the extra charge and PSEG has sued Southampton Town for the $200,000 it claimed the Town owed. (Source: Kia Gregory, "Utility Poles Generate Heat From Long Island Residents"NY Times, April 22, 2014.)

This story continues here.