PATH was re-routed within months of being introduced to the public, because PJM's approved plan for it called for "twin" 500kV circuits through densely populated, high-growth areas of West Virginia's eastern panhandle, northern Virginia, and Maryland's Washington, D.C. suburbs. It just wasn't physically and politically possible to construct the project. PJM's determination of the "constructability" of PATH was wrong. Even its second choice of a single 765kV line through the area failed.
And PJM hasn't gotten any smarter about constructability since. Its first major transmission project since the PATH/MAPP failure is also destined to "constructability" failure. PJM recently selected PSE&G's proposal for a new 500kV line to parallel an existing line in Salem County, New Jersey to solve its Artificial Island problem. PJM claimed its decision was based on the "constructability" of PSE&G's project.
So, what standard did PJM use? PJM hired a company that does work for the companies bidding on this project to do a "Constructability Study."
The study accounts for environmental permitting, historical commission review, federal environmental review, and a host of other "risks." It gave little moment to state utility commission review and permitting, and paid absolutely no attention to possible public opposition and its impact on permits necessary from local government.
I guess PJM and GAI Consultants have already forgotten what killed the PATH project they both had a hand in. GAI opines that paralleling existing transmission lines will dampen opposition because there's no need to involve "new" landowners. Right... because transmission lines are like potato chips... one is never enough!
The routing study and mapping shows urban and residential areas being crossed, and at one point the line runs practically right over top of a school. Although all projects needed to acquire new right of way adjacent to the current one, GAI and PJM reason that PSE&G has an advantage here because of some old agreement over ownership of transmission assets. I just don't see this agreement being helpful convincing landowners to agree to expand the current right of way. Maybe PJM has forgotten what happened when TrAILCo attempted to utilize old right of way in Pennsylvania? In that instance, trying to force old agreements on new landowners using unscrupulous land agents blew up in TrAILCo's face and most likely contributed to its eventual denial by the PA PUC. In the end, TrAILCo had to abandon that old right of way and give it back to the landowners.
The selected project also proposes an overhead river crossing in a very busy shipping lane, instead of the submarine crossing proposed by other projects.
This is a public opposition bonfire in the making!
So, what else could PJM have done here? What other projects were in the running? Projects choosing a route through Delaware were evaluated for "constructability" by a different company that actually considered public opposition, and none of that was very encouraging. All projects will garner public opposition, some more than others. DUH.
Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
But, wait a tick here. There's one project on PJM's bid list that doesn't seem to have been evaluated in either "constructability" report. I guess PJM batted it aside instantly, like a distasteful mint.
Atlantic Grid (yes, the ones who have been patiently trying to construct an offshore backbone transmission line to gather offshore wind generation and funnel it to shore at strategic locations) submitted something called the Garden State Reliability Project. It looks like this project was going to do something entirely different than the rest of the contenders.
The Artificial Island-related challenges to grid reliability and operational flexibility that PJM describes in its Problem Statement can be solved with the Garden State Reliability Project (GSRP), a proposed voltage source converter (VSC) high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission system that connects Artificial Island to the Cardiff AC Substation near Atlantic City, New Jersey. GSRP has the capacity to controllably transmit 1,000 MW of power on its approximately 60-mile underground circuit. GSRP also incorporates static VAR compensator (SVC) facilities. The project is estimated to cost $1,012 million and to be in service by December 31, 2018.
But, Atlantic Grid's GSRP was proposed to cost 4 times as much as PJM's favored project. However, GSRP provided many other benefits the other project didn't, such as black start capability for Artificial Island, and it was designed to meet future needs, instead of simply fixing today's little problem. Low cost may be the easy choice for today, but sometimes it's just not as efficient.
PJM's "low cost" choices presume that a select set of landowners must be forced to sacrifice their private property for the good of society. When is the rest of society going to make a sacrifice for its own good? Adequately compensating landowners and/or building higher cost projects that don't require as much sacrifice from host landowners should be a sacrifice society is willing to make for its own good! Want cleaner power? Want your lights to stay on? You need to pay for it, not some other landowners miles away who are not benefiting from the project.
And you know what was really innovative about Atlantic Grid's project? It was completely underground and routed along road rights of way! Minimal sacrifice for host landowners, minimal public opposition, minimal risk, minimal time to complete.
Another key GSRP project objective was to demonstrate timely constructability with a practical right of way (ROW) approach and low construction and environmental impact. GSRP is distinguished from high voltage AC line solutions to the grid reliability and operating issues at Artificial Island because GSRP has a more predictable in-service date. GSRP’s HVDC cable system would be buried underground in state and local road ROW, rather than being constructed as an overhead transmission line. Accordingly, building GSRP requires simple rights of access to existing road ROW granted by public entities. In comparison, AC overhead transmission solutions will require new or expanded ROW acquisition involving tree and brush clearing, high towers, aesthetic and environmental impacts, public opposition and litigation. All of these challenges associated with overhead lines cause less predictability and greater cost.