NJ Electric Utilities Will Start Handing Over Key Data to State BPU

Tom Johnson | September 24, 2013 | Energy & Environment
Expanded information about operations will help agency decide on measures to improve reliability of power grid

Credit: Amanda Brown
BPU Commissioner Jeanne Fox
In the next few months, New Jersey’s four electric utilities will provide state regulators with a trove of never-before-available data about how their delivery systems operate and what parts of their power grids perform poorly.

The information, part of an order adopted by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities this past winter, is expected to help the agency identify areas where staff and the utilities should focus in order to improve the reliability of the power grid, which was severely tested in the past few years.

Improving reliability has been a top priority of regulators ever since 7 million people were left without power, some for weeks, after Hurricane Sandy devastated large areas of New Jersey nearly a year ago.

None of the new information, however, will be available for public scrutiny. Under an order issued by the BPU last week, the agency said much of the information is sensitive, with details about the operations of the electric utilities, so it should remain confidential for security reasons.

But the agency does not minimize the importance of the previously unavailable data.

“These reports will bear fruit,’’ said BPU President Bob Hanna. “We will achieve our goals of improving the worst performing circuits (lines that fail the most frequently) and improve reliability.’’

BPU Commissioner Jeanne Fox noted that a lot of information about the utilities’ operations is now not available because of security concerns.

“For the first time, we’re getting this type of detailed information from the utilities,’’ she said. “I expect substantial improvements in the future.’’

The agency has launched a wide-ranging proceeding to determine how to make the electric and gas delivery systems more resilient during extreme storms, several of which have battered New Jersey in the past few years.

The agency ordered the utilities to report quarterly and annually on outages and reliability measures; to provide details about their poorest performing circuits; and, finally, to identify and track trees that cause multiple outages when they fall on power lines.

“The additional information will aid in system evaluation and identification of high outage areas or equipment, help identify outage and fault catalysts, and allow the board staff to better understand the current state of the electric systems and infrastructure, as well as identify issues that the EDCs (electric distribution companies) and the board should address, ‘’ according to the board order.

The order noted that the information the utilities must now report is more comprehensive than was required by the agency in the past and includes details not otherwise disclosed by the utilities.

“The board will be using this information as part of its ongoing investigative process that will help the board define new reporting requirements and may also lead to directives for corrective action,’’ according to the order.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Public Service Electric & Gas — the state’s largest gas and electric utility — filed a petition with the BPU to spend $3.9 billion over the next decade to “harden’’ its power grids. The agency has begun public hearings on the first phase of the project, which calls for spending $2.6 billion over the next five years, primarily to prevent substations and switching stations from being flooded in future storms. The plan awaits approval by the BPU.

The agency also is in the middle of a rate case involving Jersey Central Power & Light — the state’s second largest electric utility, with about 1 million customers. The case was initiated after the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel suggested the utility was earning more than it should.

Beyond the costs of improving reliability, utility customers in New Jersey face the prospect of paying approximately $1 billion to gas and electric utilities for the cost of restoring service from outages caused by last fall’s hurricane, provided those expenses are viewed as prudent by the state agency.