“The significant thunderstorm and cloudburst experienced in Hunterdon and Somerset counties on Monday is a prime example of why utility companies need to provide the BPU with their updated strategy for handling widespread power outages,” said
Peterson, R-Hunterdon, Somerset and Warren. “Aging infrastructure needs to be evaluated and replaced. The number of downed poles, trees and wires, along with the delay in restoring power, are evidence that reinforcing the BPU’s authority to hold utilities accountable is critical. The damage caused by these kinds of storms is more than an inconvenience to residents and businesses.
“A strategic plan is needed from each utility that will detail how they will replace aging infrastructure and regularly communicate the status of restoring power to customers during an emergency is why this legislation is needed,” he continued.
Simon said Super Storm Sandy as well as other recent storms that wreaked havoc throughout the state, including Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee and the October 2011 snowstorm, exposed the vulnerabilities of some utility companies throughout the state.
“Even though certain utility companies said they were prepared to meet the serious challenges post Hurricane Irene, clearly they were not when Hurricane Sandy hit,” said Simon, R- Hunterdon, Somerset, Mercer and Middlesex. “Although prolonged outages were expected, the utilities’ accountability and reliability efforts were suboptimal.
“A utility company having new outage maps on the internet is not the answer if power is out or if someone does not have a smart phone or computer. That’s why it’s imperative that utility representatives are velcro’d to County OEM’s officials for minute-to-minute restoration updates for our constituents,” she continued. “This is still an issue as evidenced by the damage and delays in restoring power following Monday’s brief storm. This measure will put them on notice that there will be consequences should they fail to prepare, quickly respond and restore. It’s too important to the safety and welfare of residents and businesses to languish. Action is needed now.”
Peterson’s and Simon’s legislation, A-3255, the “Reliability, Preparedness & Storm Response Act of 2012,” requires public utilities to put in place aggressive planning requirements for service reliability and strategic communications in an emergency in the form of an annually submitted plan. It also requires the Board of Public Utilities’ (BPU) to develop and enforce performance benchmarks for service reliability, service disruption preparedness, service restoration, and communications for electric distribution companies doing business in the State. In addition, it grants BPU investigative authority to review public utility performance during an outage and, if found to be failing in implementing its reliability plan, impose civil administrative penalties.
It also increases daily fines from $100 to $25,000 with a maximum of $2 million in penalties for any series of violations related to a particular event. Public utilities would be prohibited from passing on the cost of the penalties to ratepayers.
The measure is based on recommendations outlined in the BPU’s performance review of public utilities in New Jersey during Hurricane Irene and the October 2011 snowstorm.