Utility Accountability Pushed by RB

November 30, 2012
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By John Burton

RED BANK – Mayor Pasquale Menna wants the state’s Board of Public Utilities to enact stronger regulations guiding power companies, particularly Jersey Central Power and Light (JCP&L) because of the electric utility’s handling of power restoration during the days and weeks following Sandy.

Menna said he would like the board to address what he described as “mismanagement and no management” on the part of JCP&L.

What Menna would like to see happen, he told the borough council earlier this month, is to have BPU force JCP&L to enact reforms and procedures for greater communication between the company and local officials, that would allow the public to stay informed. That would be in addition to the BPU’s investigating what occurred in Super Storm Sandy’s aftermath earlier this month when much of the borough was without electricity for as many as 13 days.

“Local officials became employees” of JCP&L by extension as they fielded inquiries from residents and business owners who wanted up-to-date information, Menna contended. The problem was, he said, local officials didn’t have access to that information, leaving them at a distinct disadvantage.

What he proposed – and the council unanimously agreed – was a resolution, modeled after one adopted by South Orange officials. The measure asks that the BPU enact new standards that would require a utility to provide a representative to work with local officials when 5 percent or more of the community experiences a power outage for a day or longer. The representative should be in the community and “not at some corporate headquarters shielded from the public and media,” the mayor said.

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South Orange faced similar difficulties with its power provider, Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G), South Orange Mayor Alex Torpey said. The problem wasn’t so much the length of time it took to restore power, but a lack of information.

“It’s obviously a huge challenge,” Torpey said. “As local officials we’re expected to have information about what’s going on in town. … We weren’t getting daily, reliable updates and what we were getting was inconsistent.”

Menna charged that it took a number of days after the storm for the borough administrator and the local emergency management team to get a map detailing priority locations and trouble spots in the borough to utility representatives.

“The system did not work,” he said.

Torpey and the officials in his townships have contracted their state legislators in the 27th District, including Senator Richard Codey, to move the proposed reforms along by incorporating them into legislative bills.

Menna said he hopes this area’s state legislators will embrace the issue and encourage BPU to adopt the proposal. “We know plenty of them were very supportive after the storm,” he said of the legislators. “We want to know if they’ll be there when the dust settles.”

Menna plans to meet with the legislators to discuss the issue and the council’s resolution.

Along with South Orange, New Milford and Maplewood have approved similar measures, Torpey said.

Red Bank is the first in Monmouth County to adopt it, Menna said.

Calls to BPU and JCP&L seeking comment were not immediately returned.

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