The state yesterday ordered public utilities to end any in-home or business visits unless there is an immediate risk to health and safety, a step aimed at further limiting the spread of COVID-19 in New Jersey.
The action by the Board of Public Utilities at a rare emergency meeting also ceased door-to-door sales by independent energy suppliers or other salespersons selling residential solar and other energy-efficiency offerings.
“We are trying to minimize the spread of the virus,’’ said BPU president Joseph Fiordaliso at the meeting held by teleconference call. “We don’t know how long this will last, and we don’t know how many people will be affected.’’
The meeting was held on a day when Gov. Phil Murphy and other administration officials disclosed that the state recorded 318 new cases of COVID-19. At Thursday afternoon’s press conference, Murphy predicted that number will continue to grow before it starts to recede.
The action by the BPU, a regulatory agency that oversees utilities providing gas, electric, water and other services to customers, follows an announcement a week ago that utilities agreed to suspend service shutoffs given the statewide public health emergency.
If there’s a problem
The board emphasized it wants customers to call their utility if a problem exists in their home, regardless of the order to limit in-home visits. “If someone smells gas, we want them to call their utility,’’ said Fiordaliso.
The move to limit contact with customers extends to those working on renewable energy contracts, including energy efficiency and community solar, according to the board. “Any contractor doing work for the state or a utility should be included in the directive,’’ said Paul Flanagan, executive director of the agency.
“It’s a reasonable, measurable step,’’ said Fred DeSanti of the New Jersey Solar Energy Coalition. “It’s not like they are shutting down the entire industry.’’
Internet for school-age children, remote workers
In addition, the board, however, allowed broadband internet providers to continue to connect new customers or repair existing homes with school-age children, or those who need internet access to meet job requirements. Those connections only would be permitted after customers utilize hotspots, self-install kits or other measures to limit in-house visits.
“PSEG is committed to the health and safety of the employees, our customers and the communities we serve, and we fully support the Board of Public Utility’s order,’’ said Michael Jennings, a spokesman for PSEG. “We know that our customers rely on us to heat their homes and power their lives and businesses. Our teams across the company have been working around the clock to ensure we are well-prepared to serve our customers.”
At the same time, Food and Water Action’s Public Water For All has urged the administration to call a moratorium on water shutoffs across the state. “People cannot wash their hands if their water service has been shut off,’’ said Mary Grant, campaign director of the organization.
In the meantime, the renewable industry is urging Congress to extend important tax incentives to the clean energy sector to surmount the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The outbreak threatens the sector’s ability to qualify for those incentives because of delays associated with supply chain disruptions, including solar and offshore wind projects.
“Anything that can put deadlines on hold and will give people more time sounds sensible,’’ DeSanti said.