Extreme weather patterns have become the norm for New Jersey in recent years. Prolonged heat waves, heavy rain and destructive storms have stretched utility companies and their capacity to respond to power outages and damage to infrastructure. Vincent Maione, Region President, Atlantic City Electric, tells Managing Editor Mike Schneider that extreme weather has put stress on the system, especially the storms that come up announced not allowing for any time to prepare.
“Especially when they’re severe winds or severe straight line winds that cause the most amount of havoc. and it takes down a lot of our trees that are very much alongside the pole lines and the electric lines and they usually end up coming down and they take down the facilities. the trees come down and they take down the facilities and that causes the majority of the outages.”
Maione says the South Jersey utility company has already spent $9 million in trimming trees that run along its facilities and will be investing a total of $140 million this year alone. “So we’re making improvements to our substations do help ameliorate the situation tremendously we believe.”
Customers will feel the brunt of those expenses in the form of a rate increase. Atlantic City Electric proposed a $90 million rate increase. In a filing made last month with an administrative law court judge, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) recommended the utility increase its revenues by only $45 million.
Maione defended the $90 million rate increase, saying “we think it’s very prudent monies that we’re spending on the infrastructure, it does have a significant impact on reliability of our customers.”
The Christie administration has made lowering electric bills in the state a priority. Maione says that he and BPU employees are not immune to high electric bills as they too live in the community
“We pay the same electric bills as everybody else and we’re trying to do the best we can,” said Maione. “And I think the governor, the BPU and the entire legislature, they’re doing what they can to just make sure that the costs that are being expended are as prudent as possible and that’s our commitment to our communities.”
Maione cites as as part of those prudent expenditures, a program that uses proceeds from the auctioning of old utility poles to the highest bidder to help pay for the cost of new poles, wire and equipment.
“We have a program where we go out to the bidders, to the manufacturers and we try to get the best price we can. That’s our commitment to the communities and the ratepayers to make sure we get the best price for those products.”
The push for solar energy has been a big initiative in the Christie administration and New Jersey is second only to California in total megawatts of solar power installed, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. On July 23, Gov. Chris Christie signed bipartisan legislation to support and maintain the state’s solar incentive market.
Maione says that Atlantic City Electric has done a very good job in installing solar systems among its residential and commercial customers, ranking fifth in the nation as far as customers connected to the system.
“We have over 3,000 customers now connected to the system,” said Maione. “We think it’s something good for our customers and they are making the investment and we are trying to attempt to interconnect those customers as many as we can onto the grid which helps them maintain their cost per kilowatt hour.”