Without debate, the state approved yesterday a scaled-back infrastructure improvement program for Jersey Central Power & Light, the second biggest electric utility in New Jersey.
The Board of Public Utilities backed a settlement its staff and the Division of Rate Counsel reached with the utility, allowing it to invest $97 million over the next two years to address long-standing problems with tree damage causing widespread outages in its franchise territory.
The company originally had proposed a four-year, $387-million investment program last July, geared to curbing the number and duration of power outages its customers experience, a recurring sore point with regulators.
In recent years, spurred by extreme storm events like hurricanes Irene and Sandy, the BPU has pressured the state’s utilities to step up investment in projects that improve resiliency and reduce power outages which in the past have stretched for weeks for some customers.
The two-year program includes more than 1,400 projects to enhance the reliability and resiliency of overhead distribution lines, replacing equipment with new smart-technology devices and expanding vegetation management to deal with tree-related outages.
JCP&L predicts that once the projects are complete, its customers will experience fewer sustained outages under normal conditions and a reduction in outage duration. The program could boost the average customer bill by about 50 cents a month, according to the utility.
The approval comes at a time when numerous utilities are seeking to boost rates for customers — either through programs to modernize the grid and to comply with new clean-energy mandates under a new law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy a year ago.
Last month, the BPU also approved a controversial $300-million a year subsidy to keep three nuclear power plants operated by PSEG Power open. The subsidy will increase residential customer bills by at least $31 per year, depending upon the utility they are served by.