New Rules to Stop Utilities from Shutting Off Power to Residents Who Use Vital Medical Equipment

Tom Johnson | October 31, 2019 | Energy & Environment
Proposal stems from PSE&G shut-off of power in 2018 to home of Newark woman who died after being deprived of electric-powered oxygen supply
Credit: Disodium/Flickr
The proposal would extend the period of time before a utility could discontinue service for nonpayment from 60 days to 90 days.

The state is proposing tougher rules for utilities aimed at preventing shut-offs that put residents at risk who rely on electricity for life-sustaining medical equipment in their homes.

The proposal by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities stems from an incident where Public Service Electric & Gas cut off power to a home in July 2018, resulting in the death of a 68-year-old woman several hours after being deprived of electric-powered oxygen supply in the middle of a heat wave.

Subsequently, Gov. Phil Murphy signed “Linda’s Law,’’ a measure named after Linda Daniels, who died of congestive heart failure after power was shut off due to a nonpayment of the household’s utility bill.

“The death of Linda Daniels was a tragedy and this is a commonsense way to protect the health and safety of utility customers,’’ said BPU president Joseph Fiordaliso. “The proposed amendments will take a strong law even further, bolstering measures already put in place to protect residents who rely on life-sustaining medical equipment.”

To that end, the new proposal would extend the period of time before a utility could discontinue service for nonpayment from 60 days to 90 days. In addition, it would require the utility to determine at least quarterly whether life-sustaining equipment is present at a customer’s residence.

The proposal also broadens the scope of medical professionals who can provide a statement verifying that the loss of electricity would aggravate a customer’s condition. Finally, the revised rules would simplify procedures for restoring service when an account is disconnected.

PSE&G cut off power on the morning of July 5, 2018 because the bill was substantially in arrears. Almost immediately, Linda Daniels’ family members contacted the utility, pleading for it to restore service.

While utility employees quickly determined that power should be restored because of Daniels’ medical condition, they made significant but unintentional errors in how to go about restoring service, according to an independent investigation by a law firm hired by PSE&G.

Once published in the New Jersey Register, the proposal will be subject to a 60-day public comment period.