The state's largest utility yesterday won approval to extend a highly successful energy efficiency program and expand upgrades to its gas and electric infrastructure on an accelerated basis, work that will create hundreds of jobs.
In approving these plans the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) extended the timeframe of two programs that officials have initiated in hopes of jump-starting the economy and advancing the state’s goals of reducing the amount of energy its residents and businesses consume.
Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) plans to spend about $273 million over the next 18 months to improve the reliability and safety of its gas and electric distribution systems, which serves more than 2 million customers. The combined projects are expected to generate more than 450 utility and contractor positions through 2012.
The board also approved the Newark utility’s plans to spend another $103 million to help cash-strapped hospitals, municipalities and multifamily housing units undertake projects to reduce energy use and reap savings on their energy bills. The utility says it expects the projects will create another 377 fulltime jobs, according to Jerry May, director of the Division of Energy at BPU.
"There is significant demand for these type of programs," May told the commissioners, before they voted to approve an extension of the energy efficiency program. Under the new program, $20 million will be set aside for residential and multifamily units; $25 million for local and state governments and nonprofit facilities; and $50 million to improve energy efficiency at hospitals. The program allocates $8 million for administrative costs.
The hospital program, in particular, has proven extremely popular.
At the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) campus in Newark, the utility is currently involved in a $11.4 million project that will result in $1.3 million annual energy savings for the school, said Dave Schulz, associate vice president of operations. “The project savings on these large projects are so significant,’’ Schulz said, it is why the agency voted to extend the program.
The impact of the investments will be minimal on customers’ bills, BPU officials said. A typical gas customer will see gas bills increase by 92 cents a year and a typical residential electric customer will see a rise in bills by about 80 cents a year.
Beyond the energy efficiency program, the utility will spend about $195 million in accelerated capital improvements to its electric distribution system. Among the projects are upgrades to voltage regulators, insulations and breakers at substations and replacement of underground cable facilities, including along the Jersey City waterfront.
On the gas side, the utility will spend about $78 million to enhance the reliability of the system, including replacing aging cast iron and bare steel gas mains.
The total cost to ratepayers has yet to be quantified, but state officials said they expect it to be significantly south of 1 percent of a customer’s bill.
"In addition to strengthening our electric and gas distribution system, these additional accelerated capital investments will improve the state’s economy by stimulating the purchase of goods and services and by creating jobs," said Ralph LaRossa, PSE&G president and chief operating officer.