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Holding Utilities Feet To The Fire [AUDIO]

The power outages in New Jersey following Superstorm Sandy were unacceptably long to many and lawmakers have been getting an earful from residents.

Bruce Bennett, Getty Images

A pair of new bills in Trenton seeks to give the public the chance to sound off on rate hike proposals and require utilities to come up with a real plan to safeguard power-generating substations.

State Senator Christopher “Kip” Bateman, and Assembly members Jack Ciattarelli and Donna Simon are drafting legislation that would require utility companies to hold public hearings in every county that would be affected by a proposed rate increase.

As a result of Sandy and associated flooding, Ciattarelli has already introduced legislation that requires utility companies to propose plans to move utility infrastructure out of flood hazard areas or, when that is not feasible, submit a plan that complies with flood-proof design regulations.

“If utility companies have the audacity to try to raise rates on people who have just lost their properties during New Jersey’s worst natural disaster, then they should have the guts to tell all of them to their faces,” says Bateman. “It is outright cowardly for JCP&L (Jersey Central Power and Light) to attempt to increase rates on District 16 consumers behind their backs.”

JCP&L is proposing a 4.5 percent rate hike that will increase the average bill by more than $50 per year. State law requires utilities to hold public hearings before increasing rates and the utility has scheduled six hearings in three locations in Monmouth, Morris and Ocean counties.

“It seems more than reasonable require public utilities. not just to have public hearings, but to have one in each county in which they have ratepayers,” explains Ciattarelli. “My goal is not necessarily to strike an adversarial relationship with them (power companies), but my ultimate goal is to represent ratepayers, citizens and constituents of the 16th District.”

Bateman, Ciattarelli, and Simon say none of the schedules public hearing locations are convenient for 40,000 ratepayers in their 16th Legislative District.

“We cannot allow public utilities to hide from the ratepayers who are continually asked to pay more for less service,” explains Simon. “It’s unfortunate that this legislation is necessary because of JCP&L’s repeated and flagrant disregard for its ratepayers. Our constituents have endured more than a dozen widespread outages in the past two years that carry incredible emotional and financial hardships and now JCP&L is asking them for more money without accountability or local public hearing.”

Under Ciattarelli’s separate bill, utility companies would have six months to submit their plan to move infrastructure in question. If workable, the state would order the plan be implemented and relocation of infrastructure would need to be completed within 10 calendar years.

“Substations located in flood prone areas defy reason,” stated Ciattarelli. “We need to make sure we’re doing all we can to ensure that our critical utility infrastructure is floodproof. That means moving infrastructure from flood hazard areas when it is feasible and flood proofing that infrastructure when it is not.”

Ciattarelli’s legislation stipulates that if a utility company submits information showing that a plan to move its infrastructure is not feasible, and the state agrees, the utility would be ordered to submit a plan that complies with the state’s flood-proof design regulations.

“The objective of this legislation is not to punish utility companies for sustained power outages in the aftermath of Superstorms like Irene and Sandy,” explains Ciattarelli. “The objective is to require an evaluation of the locations of substations and be proactive in minimizing, if not avoiding, the consequences of them being flooded.

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