Assembly Approves DeAngelo, Quijano & Benson Bill to Protect Consumers by Improving NJ’s Public Utility Infrastructure

The Assembly on Thursday approved legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Wayne DeAngelo, Annette Quijano and Daniel Benson to begin minimizing the impact of severe weather on consumers after the vast power outages that affected millions of homes and businesses in New Jersey during Superstorm Sandy.

The bill (A-2586) would establish the Energy Infrastructure Commission to study the state’s public utility network.

“The bill is derived from concerns raised during and after Superstorm Sandy when many consumers lost power because of downed power lines caused by high winds or fallen trees, as well as extensive flooding of substations in low-lying areas,” said DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex), Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee chair. “More than two million homes and businesses lost power during the storm. While we can’t prevent another storm from coming, we can try to lessen the impact by proactively improving our energy system.”

“This storm caused severe hardships for our state,” said Quijano (D-Union). “As we recover, we should look for ways we can mitigate the potential for damage, including improving our infrastructure to prevent power outages and improving communication between residents and utility companies about outages so people can plan better.”

Sixty-five percent of New Jersey utility customers lost power due to the storm. Depending on their location, degree of physical damage and utility company, some residents had to wait weeks before their power was restored.

“The power outages we experienced after Superstorm Sandy were not a mere inconvenience. For families uncertain about whether to dispose of food stored in the refrigerator and our residents dependent upon medical devices that require electricity, for example, this was a matter of public health and safety,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “This legislation is about working responsibly to safeguard the welfare of New Jersey residents in anticipation of the next natural disaster.”

The bill would establish a 15-member commission made up of state and local government representatives and private citizens to study and provide findings and recommendations about the following:

· a comparative analysis of reinforcing or improving existing power lines and utility poles versus the installation of underground electric distribution lines;

· the feasibility of installing all or majority of electric distribution lines in the State underground;

· the costs to ratepayers, taxpayers, and municipalities associated with moving above-ground electric distribution lines underground;

· methods for prevention of electric transmission and distribution line damage caused by fallen trees and excessive winds;

· the effect of municipal tree maintenance plans and electric public utility vegetation management programs upon electric utility infrastructure reliability and recommendations for improving such plans and programs to improve reliability;

· problems, including the location of substations in flood plains or low lying areas, associated with vulnerabilities to electric utility infrastructure;

· recommendations for the utilization of technology to better communicate electric service outages from customers experiencing an outage to the appropriate electric utility;

· feasibility concerning the implementation of new technologies to improve electric utility service reliability and alternative methods for the transmission and distribution of electricity; and

· recommendations for legislation to facilitate improvements to electric utility transmission and distribution reliability, including recommendations for legislation concerning the installation of underground electric distribution lines and the utilization of new technologies to improve reliability.

It would be the duty of the commission to study and make findings and recommendations to the governor and to the legislature within one year of its organizational meeting.

The commission would meet monthly and hold at least three public hearings for the purpose of taking testimony regarding matters before the commission. There would be one hearing in each geographic subdivision of New Jersey – northern, central and southern.

The bill was approved 77-0 and now awaits further consideration by the Senate.