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Benson, Stanley and Murphy Bill to Hold Public Utilities Accountable, Improve Storm Response Clears Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Dan Benson, Sterley Stanley, and Carol Murphy to improve the response of public utility companies to major storms and hold them accountable cleared the Assembly Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday.

The bill is in response to the power outages following Hurricane Sandy in late October 2009 that left many residents without power until Thanksgiving, and the more recent outages following the back-to-back nor’easters that knocked out power for tens of thousands of New Jersey residents for weeks at a time. These power outages prompted the Board of Public Utilities to hold public hearings.
“Ratepayers have paid for reliability improvements over the last decade since Superstorm Sandy,” said Assemblyman Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “This bill ensures that customers see the return on that investment in actual improved service and communications.”

The bill (A-2427) , known as “The Reliability, Preparedness, and Storm Response Act,” would require the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to develop and enforce performance benchmarks for service reliability, service disruption, service restoration, and communications for electric public utilities that distribute electricity to end users within New Jersey.

“Extended power outages are not just inconvenient, but potentially dangerous when it impacts residents with debilitating health issues,” said Assemblyman Stanley (D-Middlesex). “The response from the public utilities to recent storms needed to be stronger. This bill will ensure that a more comprehensive approach is taken.”

“Having residents go without power for weeks is strenuous and further delays the recovery process,” said Murphy (D-Burlington). “This will ensure that the public utilities are well prepared to minimize the impact on residents so they can get back on their feet sooner than later.”

The bill would require every electric public utility to file an emergency response plan with the BPU that reflects the performance benchmarks established by the BPU. This plan would serve as an official plan of action for each electric public utility in the event of a widespread power outage and is to include, but not be limited to:

· the identification of management staff responsible for electric public utility operations during an emergency;

· an explanation of the electric public utility’s system of communication with customers during an emergency that extends beyond normal business hours and business conditions;

· a history of contacts with customers that report or document to the electric public utility a need of essential electricity for medical reasons;

· designation of electric public utility staff to communicate with local officials and relevant regulatory agencies;

· provisions regarding how the electric public utility will assure the safety of its employees and contractors;

· procedures for deploying electric public utility and mutual aid crews to work assignment areas;

· the designation and prioritization of areas where a power outage may result in the malfunctioning of septic systems or the loss of drinkable water due to customers’ use of electric well water pumps;

· strategies to address flooding, wind damage, and vegetation management; and

· identification of supplies and equipment anticipated to be needed by the electric public utility during an emergency and the means of obtaining additional supplies and equipment.

A copy of the bill can be found here. It now heads to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.