Jersey Central Power & Light won a rate increase that would boost the average residential customer’s bill by about $4 per month, but the bump will not show up on utility bills until Nov. 1, 2021.
In approving the JCP&L rate request on Wednesday, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities will allow the state’s second-largest utility to collect $94 million in its basic rates from customers, although the increases will not take effect for another year.
“To give families and businesses more time to adjust to the challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic, bills will remain unchanged in the near term and the new rates will be applied to bills in November 2021,’’ said Jim Fakult, president of JCP&L.
The utility, which serves more than 1.1 million customers in central New Jersey and parts of the coastal region, had originally sought to increase revenues by $186.96 million when it first filed for the rate increase in February.
BPU puts conditions on rate increase
In approving a stipulated settlement, the BPU attached several conditions, including directives to JCP&L to step up its programs to reduce power outages caused by falling trees during storms.
“They generally get seriously abused during storms,’’ said BPU President Joseph Fiordaliso, who noted the utility’s territory is one that experiences a lot of outages during those events, particularly from downed trees. JCP&L has come under frequent criticism from regulators and local officials for its efforts to communicate with the public and slowness in restoring power to customers during powerful storms, such as a tropical storm this past August.
BPU Commissioner Mary Anna Holden agreed, arguing the utility’s reliability metrics have fallen since 2018. “I’m not happy with this 4% rate increase,’’ she said.
Better tree trimming
In earlier comments, Fiordaliso announced the board plans to examine once again new steps to upgrade its vegetation program, a source of many power outages across the state in recent years. “It needs some kind of resolution down the road,’’ he said. “After each storm, it becomes an issue again.’’
Beyond that, the board intends to conduct a management audit of the utility, according to Fiordaliso. The audit will focus on whether the utility’s management can justify the expenses they have incurred, an issue that previously has been raised by the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel.
Clifford Cole, a spokesman for JCP&L said the company welcomes any requested dialogue with the BPU and will cooperate with their request.
Standing up to severe weather
“This agreement helps us deliver on our commitment to keeping the lights on for our customers, enhancing service reliability and supporting the state and timely response to power outages caused by severe weather events,’’ said Fakult.
The settlement also allows the utility to recover the costs of investments made since January 2016 to strengthen its electric system to meet reliability standards set by the BPU in the wake of previous storms, such as Superstorm Sandy.
Even with the latest increase, JCP&L said its customers will continue to pay the lowest residential rates among New Jersey’s four regulated electric utilities.