Work begins on underwater power cable connecting New Jersey, Delaware

Elected officials help LS Power break ground on a project to install a 230-kilovolt power line underneath the Delaware River between Salem, New Jersey and an area just south of Port Penn, Delaware. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Elected officials help LS Power break ground on a project to install a 230-kilovolt power line underneath the Delaware River between Salem, New Jersey and an area just south of Port Penn, Delaware. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

It’s somewhat of a challenge to hold a groundbreaking ceremony for a project that is primarily under water, but that’s exactly what happened Thursday morning for the long-delayed electric transmission line to connect Delaware and New Jersey.

Delaware state elected officials joined leaders from LS Power and subsidiary Silver Run Electric at a Christmas tree farm not far from the spot near the Delaware River where crews are preparing to bury a 230-kilovolt transmission line under the river.

“More than anything else, this is an opportunity for us to say ‘thank you,’” said LS Power CEO Paul Segal. “We are completing the first stage of this project, which was the conceptual and development stage, and we’re about to launch construction … we’re incredibly excited about that.”

The project, approved in 2015, will connect Delaware’s electric grid to power lines adjacent to the Salem and Hope Creek nuclear plants in New Jersey. That connection will improve what had been something of an electrical bottleneck on the grid where power generated in Salem could only be routed in a limited direction. It’s also designed to improve reliability for Delaware power customers.

“This new transmission opportunity is going to be addressing reliability, stability,” said Delaware Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall Long. “What will that do? It will prevent us from being in the dark.”

The project had been in limbo for some time as Delaware fought the cost allocation structure that would have forced the First State to shoulder most of the project’s $278 million price tag. Delaware Gov. John Carney joined Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan in protesting the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s ruling that would have forced Delmarva Power ratepayers in their states to take on more than 90% of that cost.

“We are not opposed to the Artificial Island project itself, but object to unfair and unreasonable costs for our residents and businesses,” the governors wrote in a letter to FERC.

In February, FERC reversed that cost distribution decision. Because the project will provide improved reliability to power suppliers around the region, regulators determined that the costs should be spread around to those other suppliers as well. They include PSE&G, PECO, PPL Electric, Jersey Central Power & Light, Atlantic City Electric, and Metropolitan Edison, in addition to Delmarva Power.

“We were happy to see that resolved,” said Casey Carroll, the project manager for LS Power. “Not to say that there won’t be operation and construction challenges, but we’ve made a major milestone here in completing the development and permitting and authorizations for the project. Look forward to moving ahead.”

In an effort to soothe concerns about costs, LS Power has capped the cost of its portion of the project at $146 million.

On Thursday, a crane was visible in the distance behind the groundbreaking ceremony as work began on the portion of the project where the transmission line goes into the river on the Delaware side. From there, the line will travel some 14,000 feet to New Jersey where it will connect to existing power lines.

The process of placing the cable underwater will be the first of its kind in the U.S. Using something called vertical injector technology, crews will be able to bury the cable across the river in about 24 hours.

Project manager Casey Carroll of LS Power (left) describes how the vertical injector technology will allow workers to install the 230-kilovolt transmission line 15 feet under the Delaware River about 24 hours. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

“It is really quick, that’s one of the most amazing features of the vertical injector technology,” Carroll said. The injector, which looks like a hockey stick with water jets on the bottom, will send high pressure streams of water into the river bed. That loosens the soil under the river, allowing the cable to be buried quickly at least 15 feet below the bottom of the river.

That process should begin in July. The entire project is expected to be completed by next summer.

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