NEW JERSEY 101.5

Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) has put forth a four billion dollar Energy Strong proposal to strengthen its electric and gas infrastructure to be able to better withstand another storm like Superstorm Sandy, but the plan has some critics. 

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The AARP and the New Jersey Large Energy Users Coalition, members of the New Jersey Coalition for Affordable Power, are turning "thumbs down" on Energy Strong.

"We've spent the last several months analyzing PSE&G's four billion dollar proposal and at the end of the day we have all come to the conclusion that the Energy Strong proposal is fatally flawed and should be rejected, said Evelyn Liebman, the associate director of AARP in New Jersey.

She said Garden State ratepayers are already paying extremely high rates for electricity, so "to tack four billion more dollars on top of it, without actually being able to access a benefit is a bad deal for New Jersey, that's why we're calling on the Board of Public Utilities to reject it."

Steven Goldenberg, an attorney for the New Jersey Large Energy Users Coalition, said PSE&G could begin to implement their Energy Strong program today if they wanted to, and the only reason they're not doing that is because "the company has made it clear they will only do so if they're given extraordinary rate relief first.

They are looking for expedited recovery and above-market return on equity, and they are seeking to avoid rate-case scrutiny, which would look at the prudence of these investments before payment for them was authorized."

PSE&G said ratepayer increases for Energy Strong would be in the four to five percent range, but Goldenberg said an analysis shows it would probably be about four times that amount.

PSE&G spokeswoman Karen Johnson strongly disagreed.

"The proposal is a proactive response to the new weather normal, and several months ago the company laid out what the impact would be on rates - no higher than 5 percent several years down the road," she said. "It's important to remember because other costs will be dropping in the coming years customers will actually pay less in their total bills - even with these investment - than they do today."

The Energy Strong proposal goes before the State Board of Public Utilities next February.