Hurricane Sandy provided hard lessons for New Jersey’s power companies, which saw outages for extended periods. Nearly a year after the storm hit, PSE&G President and COO Ralph LaRossa told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider the power company is working on upgrades to better its operations in all areas.
LaRossa called Sandy “a game changer” for PSE&G. He said the number one priority is reinforcing and replacing some of the infrastructure. But also important is communication with customers.
While PSE&G representatives knew that communication was changing, LaRossa said they didn’t understand exactly how many different channels need to be used to reach all the different segments of the population.
“I always use my kids and my parents as the example,” LaRossa said. “My daughter and my son are on all the social media and they’re looking for instantaneous information there. But we can’t forget about my mom and dad who still don’t text message, who still don’t use that Facebook and Twitter and everything else. So how do we get to them? It’s the old fashioned way. We gotta deliver it hand to hand information at those locations.”
PSE&G has proposed a $3.9 billion improvement project that LaRossa said would help in all areas. If the full amount isn’t approved, he said officials will have to reevaluate the upgrades. “We can make decisions to take a little more of a risk on certain assets,” he said. The utility has held public hearings on the issues in northern and central New Jersey and has one scheduled for Oct. 7 in Cherry Hill.
There has been some skepticism about the high price tag of the improvement project, which LaRossa expected since it is a large amount of money. But he said now is a good time to do it. “We think rates are down because commodity prices are down. And we also know that other charges are rolling off the utility bill for customers so we think it’s the right time to make that investment,” he said.
The price of natural gas, which is the raw commodity for electricity in this region, is down, according to LaRossa. He said it looks like it will remain down as long as there’s access to gas reserves and fracking operations remain intact. “That’s what’s gonna give us some of that head room to make these infrastructure changes,” he said.
The height of new utility poles have caused controversy in some parts of New Jersey, including Ridgewood, where residents have attended meetings to complain about how tall they are. LaRossa said the new poles are 65 feet high and deliver a 69,000-volt line to connect two substations.
“We reinforced the grid by installing 69,000-volt lines where there used to be 26,000-volt lines. Great improvement in reliability,” LaRossa said. “Best place I could point to that’s already seen those improvements is the town of Nutley. We used to shut down Nutley almost on a regular basis because the 26,000-volt lines just couldn’t handle the load in that area. We’ve upgraded that area to 69,000 volts and we have not had a problem in the last two years.”
LaRossa said the new poles are part of the progress PSE&G is trying to make to reinforce the area.