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JCP&L and other NJ power companies could soon face fines up to $2M for storm response

By: Scott Fallon |

Power companies may soon face stiff fines for failing to restore electricity in a timely fashion after a bill was approved by a committee Thursday in response to Jersey Central Power & Light’s much-criticized response to recent snowstorms.

The bill would raise fines from $100 a day to $25,000 a day, a penalty that would ensure a more adequate response by utilities, supporters say.

The bill had languished for years in the Legislature but was revived after JCP&L’s response to a March 2 nor’easter that left 17,000 ratepayers in the dark for almost a week.

The $100 fine “is not only completely ineffective, it is an insult to the thousands of families who have suffered for days, or even weeks without power,” said State Sen. Joe Pennacchio, R-Montville, a primary sponsor of the bill. “How much money have they lost because of these outages? Probably a lot more than $100 a day.”

Ron Morano, a JCP&L spokesman, said the company is reviewing the bill.

The bill was approved by the Senate Economic Growth Committee on Thursday, a significant move since it had gone nowhere for six years. It was also merged into other legislation sponsored by Democrats, giving it important bi-partisan support in a Legislature controlled by Democrats.

The bill would require electric utilities to submit a service reliability plan and an emergency communications strategic plan. If the BPU finds that a utility failed to follow its plans, it could increase the fine from $100 to $25,000 a day for a maximum penalty of $2 million.

Power companies would not be allowed to pass on the fines to ratepayers under the bill.

The bill was introduced months after the response to Hurricane Irene in 2011 was similarly sluggish. The bill went nowhere even after it was championed by Gov. Chris Christie in the wake of Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Its sponsors, a group of Republican lawmakers, have reintroduced it each legislative session including the current one.

The Assembly has not yet acted on a similar bill.

The March 2 storm’s high wind gusts brought down utility poles and trees across North Jersey and left 220,000 of JCP&L’s customers without electricity. About 17,000 JCP&L customers were still without power when a second storm on March 7 brought heavy, wet snow that also caused power outages and left more than 350,000 without power statewide, including about 17,000 JCP&L customers.

Gov. Phil Murphy ordered the Board of Public Utilities to launch an investigation into JCP&L’s response.