Opinion: Don’t Trust JCP&L

March 22, 2018
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Contributed by Rachael Kanapka |

The case of a grassroots group fighting a power line reveals what’s going on behind the curtain at JCP&L, and it’s eye-opening.

On March 8, New Jersey Administrative Law Judge Gail Cookson recommended denial of JCP&L’s request to run new high voltage lines through populated neighborhoods in Aberdeen, Hazlet, Holmdel, Middletown and Red Bank. It’s not over yet – the state Board of Public Utilities has the final say – but it’s a big win, not just for residents of those towns but all JCP&L customers statewide whose rates would have increased to cover the cost of building it.

The judge concluded that JCP&L failed to prove that a new transmission line is justified here, even going so far as to say “this is not a close case.” She also had some choice words for the company in her decision, such as “insincere” and “disingenuous.”

She found JCP&L’s primary witness, their electrical engineer Lawrence Hozempa, biased, and about an alternative solution proposed, said he “was more about shooting it down than genuinely understanding it.”

She found JCP&L’s property value “expert” Jerome McHale to be not credible. She took issue with the cut-and-paste of Google results that he presented, said his work was borderline plagiarism, F-worthy, and “certainly not the work product of a professional entitled to much weight.”

She called them out on unethical tactics like “loading the dice” of a critical study, basically calling it a set-up, “an exercise directed at a foregone conclusion.” She also notes that key items in JCP&L’s application were “deliberately left blank.”

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The most red-handed finding of all points out very suspicious timing that supports a claim opponents made all along: JCP&L was motivated by greed, not need. They worked backwards.

JCP&L always asserted that the sole reason for this project is fixing a code violation. Yet invoices submitted as evidence show that JCP&L hired a consultant to start work on this project a full 10 months before they were even notified of that code violation. “I find that the preponderance of credible evidence proves that JCP&L commenced studies… months before any ‘problem’ was even identified as needing a solution.” Cart before the horse much, JCP&L?

This is your power company, folks. This is how they are doing business. Mad? You should be. Because guess who foots the bill for every JCP&L “expert,” every piece of paper and every minute of lawyer time for each proposal they throw at the BPU, no matter how ridiculous? Us, their ratepayers.

The bigwigs out at First Energy in Ohio have been directing their child companies like JCP&L to focus on heaving transmission proposals against the wall, hoping some stick, because that’s where the money is for shareholders. First Energy CEO Chuck Jones doesn’t even try to hide it: “We continue to view the transmission business as our primary growth platform for many years to come.”

If they wanted to help customers, they’d focus on preventing our power outages. Transmission line outages are not a problem. Over 99 percent of power outages stem from failures of the distribution of their grid: the lines connecting the substations to our homes and businesses.

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Yet do you see them running to try to maintain and upgrade our 50-plus-year-old poles or ancient transformers? Nope, because the money’s not there. Customer satisfaction would be the only incentive, but who needs that when you have customers who can’t switch?

Rachael Kanapka

This article was first published in the March 22-29, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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