Orange, PSE&G hold public workshop to discuss construction of Orange Heights

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ORANGE, NJ — On Thursday, Feb. 3, the city of Orange and PSE&G held a public workshop community meeting with Orange residents to discuss the construction of the Orange Heights Switching Station at Freeman Street. The project is intended to improve electric system reliability and increase capacity for residents and businesses in Orange and the surrounding communities. 

According to the project overview shown in a presentation at the meeting, the new switching station will provide improved system reliability using the latest technologies, and the equipment will be raised above the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s regulated flood hazard storm elevations.

“The existing station is located a block away from the proposed station and it currently serves thousands of residential (and) business customers, and it’s ultimately approaching its end-of-life condition, which is why it needs to be rebuilt and upgraded,” project manager Michael Bartocci said during the presentation. “The project will provide significant benefits to customers.

“In summary, we plan on replacing in its entirety the (existing) equipment with the new equipment meeting today’s standards in order for PSE&G to continue providing safe, reliable, resilient energy to its customers,” he continued.

Bartocci detailed the site improvement, which includes landscaping on Forest and South Jefferson streets, increased lighting, security cameras and new sidewalks. 

According to the presentation, the area slated for construction is a half block; it will include the building in the middle of the site and electrical equipment both inside and outside the building. Plans to use a switchgear system in the building will greatly reduce the amount of space needed for the station to switch from higher to lower voltages; to do this, construction will include an enclosure insulated with a nontoxic electrically insulative gas. Other equipment inside the building will be high-voltage power cables and controls to operate that equipment. The building itself will be quite large but still within the permitted height. 

Upon viewing renderings of the proposed site and providing feedback, many Orange residents in attendance were not pleased with the building’s proposed design and location, and many voiced concerns about pedestrian safety. 

Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren also shared some concerns regarding the building’s design.

“Firstly, just a general overall feedback — it was not attractive or pleasing to the community,” Warren said at the meeting. “The appeal is to try to make it look less institutional, less like a factory or a penitentiary. Simple things that were suggested could be like framing the windows, putting a decorative skirt around the bottom, and having art installations on the building that were produced and collaborated on by local artists, and having planters and vegetation around the site as well. Those were some of the key concepts that we brought up when we received input from various residents.”

Many residents voiced their disapproval of the building, citing that it will create a huge shadow on the street, leaving it pitch black, which would breed a creepy environment and encourage wrongdoing. 

“As I look at this structure, I don’t know if art can always change things. I don’t know if you can take a building like this and put up art and make it suitable for that area,” Councilwoman Jamie Summers-Johnson said at the meeting. “Residents are upset, and, as we went door to door, most of their concern was that they didn’t feel involved in the process. I do love that residents are (speaking out), because I would rather them be angry and give input now than this building go up and then we’re stuck. I think we need to go back to the drawing board.”