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Assembly Panel Approves DeAngelo & Quijano Bill to Protect Consumers by Improving N.J.’s Public Utility Infrastructure System

Bill Would Create the Energy Infrastructure Commission

An Assembly panel on Thursday released legislation Assembly Democrats Wayne DeAngelo and Annette Quijano sponsored 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) establishes an 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 trees falling on power lines, as well as extensive flooding of substations in low-lying areas,” said DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex), vice-chairman of the Assembly Telecommunications Committee. “More than two million homes and businesses lost power during the storm. Some are still without power because of the extent of infrastructure damage in their communities. We can’t prevent another storm from coming, but 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, 2.6 million homes and businesses, according to a media reports. Depending on their location, degree of physical damage and utility company, some residents had to wait weeks before their power was restored.

The bill would establish a 20-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 after its organizational meeting.

The commission will meet monthly meeting and shall 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 released by the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.