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State senator from Union wants hurricane-proof power grid

By: Frank Mustac |

If power outages like ones caused by of Hurricane Sandy are never to happen again, utility companies will have to ruggedize the grid to resist similar storms in the future. Now one state Senator wants them to do just that.

Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) said he will be introducing legislation on Dec. 6 to compel utilities to upgrade the infrastructure of their power deliver systems into homes and businesses to help prevent a repeat of leaving two million customers around the state in the dark.

“I started thinking about it in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy when not only did I suffer nine days of no heat and no electricity, but I received many, many calls from neighbors and constituents,” Lesniak said by phone on Nov. 30. “Some were crying about not having heat, not being able to prepare food for their children.”

“There’s a lot of suffering here that was going on needlessly, because we can upgrade our infrastructure so hat this doesn’t happen again.”

With the bill is about to introduce, Lesniak said he wants power companies to apply to state that Board of Public Utilities (BPU) for several types approvals.

One is to move transfer stations and substations out of flood plain areas to higher ground, or fortify or elevate them so they won’t be prone to flooding damage.

“I also want authorization for them to install smart meters in homes,” he said.

There is also a need for an improved tree-pruning program, he said, and for a redundancy system so that electrical power can be accessed from alternate sources.

“We have power lines that are exposed to trees that haven’t been pruned and we also don’t have a meter system that gives the power company the information they need to go out and fix things right away and give the consumers at least some comfort that they’ll know how long they are likely to be without power,” Lesniak said.

“Unfortunately it took such a huge hurricane to get this going, but we want to make sure that it doesn’t happen again because these climate change conditions are happening all too frequently.”

The perception and perhaps reality that New Jersey has an unreliable power grid is a huge disincentive to businesses looking at investing in the state, Lesniak said, particularly high-tech companies and Wall Street-type financial firms.

“They can’t afford to have their system down for any significant period of time,” he said. “This is very important for the economy of the state as well.”

The $200 million that JCP&L recently announced it will spend on what it is calling a local infrastructure transmission enhancement project over the next 5 to 10 years is a good start, the senator said.

“But, it’s going to take a lot more than $200 million to get this job done. It will be in excess of $1 billion,” Lesniak said about the probablyecost necessary to fortify the power grid statewide.

Those costs, which would be amortized over 20 to 30 years, the senator said, will most likely be passed to customers in the form of higher utility rates.

“Nobody is going to invest $1 bilion in infrastructure without any chance of getting it back,” Lesniak said. “It’s something that should have been done a long time ago.”

Customers, he said, would see the benefits of a sturdier grid, despite the higher cost.

“Do you want to go through 10 days without power or do you want the power company be able to identify the source of the loss of power and be able to get on the job right away? You choose.”