By: Michael L. Diamond |
New Jersey’s electric utilities need to bolster their training and improve their communications, state regulators said Wednesday in response to the companies’ performance in the aftermath of 2011’s Hurricane Irene.
The companies also need to better protect their substations from flooding during future storms, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities said.
“We’ve been concerned about just throwing money at the problem,” Ratepayer Advocate Stefanie Brand said in an interview. “This seems like a very measured approach.”
The BPU’s order comes after an investigation into the electric companies’ response to Irene, a storm that swept through New Jersey in August 2011, leaving 1.9 million customers without power, some for as long as eight days. It doesn’t take into account the companies’ actions during superstorm Sandy.
Consumer advocates such as Brand read the order closely, noting that the utility companies could dig deep to improve their operations and protect their infrastructure from future storms – and then turn around and ask the BPU to recoup their expenses by increasing customers’ rates.
The order affects Jersey Central Power & Light, Public Service Electric and Gas Co., Atlantic City Electric Co. and Rockland Electric Co. It is 60 pages and includes 103 measures, some geared toward all of the companies, others targeted at specific ones.
The BPU, for example, said all of the companies were criticized for poor communications with public officials. And JCP&L’s customers in particular complained about the condition of its reliability.
Among the requirements:
- The companies need to revise emergency plans to manage an outage that affects at least 75 percent of their customers.
- The companies need to revise their training procedures.
- The companies need to bolster their communications with extra staff, provide daily conference calls with municipal officials during outages and provide information on their web sites that show how many customers are out of power and how long it will take to restore power to them.
- JCP&L needs to develop criteria for when it will activate its emergency response plan. And PSE&G needs to develop a plan to bring in extra workers during a major storm.
- The companies in the next four months need to provide the BPU with plans that show how they are mitigating flood damage to their substations.
JCP&L, a subsidiary of Akron, Ohio-based First Energy, recently unveiled a plan to keep municipal officials better informed, and it will work with the BPU on the measures announced Wednesday, company spokesman Ron Morano said.
Newark-based PSE&G said it already made a number of improvements following Irene and a major snowstorm in October 2011, and it was reviewing the BPU’s order, a company spokesperson said.
More recommendations may be on the way. The BPU is looking into the utility companies’ performance during Sandy.
“What I don’t want to see is the situation where the end result of the consequence for poor performance is (the utilities) get paid a lot of money,” Brand said. “I support spending money that might actually make a difference for ratepayers.”