‘Mr. Energy’ Gets Ready for Another Go at Solar and Wind Power

Chairman of the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee, Upendra Chivukula has steered numerous key energy bills through the Legislature

Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-Somerset).
Name: Upendra Chivukula

Age: 63

Born: In Nellore in India’s southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

How he got to New Jersey: A graduate with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Guindy Engineering College, an institution in Chennai, India, established in 1794, Chivukula came to the U.S. in 1974 to pursue a master’s degree in electrical engineering at the City College of New York. He graduated with a degree two years later. There, he met his wife of 37 years, Dayci, who is a Cuban American.

Why he came: “When I came to the U.S., I came for studies and bettering myself. I liked it here. If you fail once, you can bounce back because of the opportunities here. You can be whatever you want,’’ he said.

His start in politics: Chivukula, a Hindu, was first elected to the Franklin Township Council in 1997, eventually rising to mayor three years later. A year later, he was elected to the state Assembly, the first South Asian lawmaker to serve in the New Jersey Legislature. He is beginning his seventh term as a state lawmaker.

Why he matters: He is chair of the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee, a legislative panel that scrutinizes most of the important energy bills to come before the Legislature. His role in sponsoring many bills dealing with the issue led the Star-Ledger to call him “Mr. Energy,’’ a few years ago.

What he has accomplished: He has helped to steer numerous important energy bills through the Legislature, including a bill to help accelerate solar development in New Jersey. He also sponsored a bill that sought to promote offshore wind farms off the Jersey coast, a goal that has yet to be achieved.

His frustrations with the state’s energy policies: The typically genial Chivukula has frequently criticized the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, the agency responsible for overseeing many energy initiatives. “We have a lot of work to do,’’ he said. “We went through the deregulation process in 1999 (when the state broke up its electric and gas monopolies). Retail competition is still not there; we need to promote that.’’

His thoughts about the new legislative agenda: Chivukula said the state needs to look at the distribution networks operated by the electric utilities, which failed spectacularly during Hurricane Sandy. “They can’t tell where the power is out,’’ he said. “They’re not making use of the smart technology that is available.’’ He also expects to examine how well the state is moving to fulfill a new Energy Master Plant to provide more reliability to the power grid and to lower energy bills for consumers and businesses.

Family: Dayci, his wife; and two grown children, Suraj and Damianty.

How he relaxes: Playing golf and an occasional cricket game.