Critics bash state’s power utilities

The good news is that the heat wave held off, and as we head into what will be at least three 90 degree-plus dog days of summer, most of New Jersey will have its power restored. But, as was the case with Tropical Storm Isaias and seemingly every major weather event since Sandy, officials are turning up the heat on utilities for the extended outages and the poor communications.

“How about communications. This is my favorite, if GPS can tell you how far you are from an intersection, but they can’t tell where the lights went out? I can guarantee you that there is technology that everyone should have that immediately connects with the power companies. They should know every location and people should know exactly how much time it’s going to take to repair their electrical input,” said Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick.

Senate Republicans also joined in calling on the Board of Public Utilities to get tough with the state’s utilities. In a letter to the Board of Public Utilities they called on the board to get on the utilities to “… create emergency response plans to ensure a fast and effective response to storms … take proactive actions that will help prevent any disruption in service in the first place … require the implementation of emergency communications plans …”

“What people need right now is immediate hardening of the infrastructure. They need to make sure the communication flow is a 21st century communications flow because people aren’t experiencing that right now, and that doesn’t take billions of dollars,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean.

Much of the ire was saved for Jersey Central Power and Light, JCP&L, the New Jersey subsidiary of Ohio-based First Energy Corporation. Freeholder Tayfun Selen of Morris County, which still had over 100,000 customers without power at the start of Monday, called for immediate action.

“Not only the resignation of the CEO, I also called for refunds for July and August utility bills because those people who lost power and incurred some costs and incurred inconveniences so they need to be compensated,” said Selen.

Just over half a million were out in the PSE&G service area. PSE&G is an NJTV underwriter.

Both JCP&L and PSE&G have spent billions over the past several years upgrading equipment and service. But Stefanie Brand, the director of the state’s Division of Rate Counsel, wants to know what kind of results ratepayers are getting for all this investment.

“I just want to make sure that when we are doing these infrastructure programs that they tell us will improve our reliability and make us more resilient in storms that we’re actually spending it in a way that achieves that result. It doesn’t feel right now like it,” she said.

“The number one priority for JCP&L with these storms when they happen is safety,” said Cliff Cole, a spokesperson for JCP&L. “The message to our customers is we thank them for their patience. We understand their frustration when the power does go out. And, again, our communication lines are there if you need to talk to us, have questions or concerns, comments we are open for that.”

Meanwhile, at his regular coronavirus briefing, the governor said the administration will examine how the utilities performed, but gave no indication as to whether any of them will face consequences for another week’s worth of outages at the beginning of what experts say will be a long and busy hurricane season.