The National Park Service on Monday approved a $1.2 billion 500-kV transmission line that will run from the Berwick area in Pennsylvania to Roseland, N.J., a project that developers Public Service Electric and Gas Co. (PSE&G) and PPL Electric Utilities say will boost electric service reliability and provide a significant economic stimulus to the region.

The National Park’s Record of Decision issued on Monday affirmed the utilities’ chosen 145-mile route. The Susquehanna-Roseland Electric Reliability Project was mandated by PJM Interconnection, the regional entity responsible for planning the transmission system, which determined that the “new line was necessary to ensure reliable electric service,” PSE&G said on its website. PSE&G is building the New Jersey portion of the line, while PPL Electric Utilities, based in Allentown, Pa., will build the Pennsylvania portion. The line is expected to be completed by June 2015, before the summer peak demand period.

“The two utilities have many of the permits required for construction along the route, and have pending applications with federal, state and local authorities to obtain the balance of the permits that are needed. The National Park Service has said it intends to issue the required federal construction permits soon,” they said in a joint statement.

The utilities’ chosen route has already been approved by both the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities and the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. About 95% of the route will follow the path of an existing 85-year-old power line “that must be replaced because it is approaching the end of its useful life and is undersized for today’s electricity demands. Following an existing power line route significantly reduces the project’s overall impact on people and the environment,” the utilities said.

The route crosses about four miles of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River, and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail on the path of an existing power line. The utilities already have an existing property easement through the park service units, and the existing line had been in place for decades before the park units were established, they said.

“To mitigate for unavoidable impacts of the power line on federal lands, as required by the National Park Service, PSE&G and PPL Electric Utilities will contribute to a [$56 million] fund administered by a nonprofit group. As directed by the National Park Service, the money will be used to purchase or preserve land for public use, compensate for wetlands impacts, and fund cultural and historic preservation activities.”

The Obama administration selected the Susquehanna-Roseland line in October 2011 for fast-track treatment by the administration’s Rapid Response Team for Transmission. The team was formed to streamline the review and permitting of transmission line projects to increase reliability and save consumers money by modernizing the grid while ensuring careful federal review.

Groups opposed to the line say distributed generation is a better solution to future energy needs, and have vowed to legally contest the decision.

Sources: POWERnews, PSE&G, PPL