Jersey Central Power & Light got permission Wednesday from the state Board of Public Utilities to increase electric rates but under a settlement the hike was cut nearly in half and delayed by a year.

JCP&L filed in February for a $187 million rate increase that has been cut to $94 million, said Stacy Peterson, director of the BPU’s Division of Energy. She said the change won’t take effect until Nov. 1, 2021, and will raise the typical customer’s bill by $4.53 a month, which is $4.20 less than first proposed.

“JCP&L will also implement a vegetation management circuit performance program wherein they will perform enhanced on-site vegetation management on certain circuits with poor tree-related reliability,” Peterson said. “The purpose of the program will also address off right-of-way vegetation and include reporting metrics.”

Joseph Fiordaliso, the BPU president, said he’s happy the increase won’t take effect for just over a year and includes a new commitment to vegetation management.

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Fiordaliso said the agency’s staff and outside groups have met to discuss the broader issue of vegetation management and that the BPU’s rules are going to be reviewed to see if more frequent tree-trimming will be required.

“JCP&L is one of those utilities whose region, whose territory involves an awful lot of vegetation,” he said. “And they do severely get abused during a storm, and it creates many, many problems.”

JCP&L serves 1.1 million New Jersey customers in 13 counties — Burlington, Essex, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union and Warren.

Fiordaliso said in conjunction with the rate increase, he is asking the BPU’s staff to initiate a management audit of JCP&L.

“An audit that will hopefully put aside some of the criticism or raise more criticism, depending on what the order suggests, of JCP&L,” Fiordaliso said. “Rate increases come along with justification, and part of that justification is, in my opinion, performing a management audit.”

BPU member Mary-Anna Holden said she’s not happy with the rate increase but encouraged that the audit will be done – “not solely financially but operationally, which is of far more interest to me.”

“While JCP&L has continued to meet minimum reliability standards when excluding major events such as Tropical Storm Isaias, JCP&L’s reliability excluding major events reached a 10-year low in 2018,” said Holden.

JCP&L said that even with the $94 million increase in base rates, the company will still charge the lowest rates among the four electric utilities in New Jersey. A residential customer using 768 kilowatt-hours per month will pay about $104, an increase of more than 4%.

“This agreement helps us deliver on our commitment to keeping the lights on for our customers, enhancing service reliability and supporting the safe and timely response to power outages caused by severe weather events,” said Jim Fakult, president of JCP&L. “To give families and businesses more time to adjust to the challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic, bills will remain unchanged in the near-term and the new rates will be applied to bills in November 2021.”

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Some lawmakers were critical that the scaled-back increase was approved.

“JCP&L has been failing its customers despite increases in rates that are supposed to be used to fix the company’s response to storm outages,” said Assemblyman Ron Dancer, R-Ocean. “While I’m disappointed that they are moving forward with this increase, I’m relieved that the BPU has initiated an investigation.”

“A delay in an eventually higher electric bill is little consolation to residents who have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus,” said Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso, R-Monmouth. “We may be able to keep the lights on for the time being, but eventually the bills will need to be paid.”

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