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DeAngelo, Benson & Caride Bill to Protect Consumers by Improving N.J.’s Public Utility Infrastructure System Released by Committee

Bill Would Create Energy Infrastructure Commission

(TRENTON) – Legislation Assembly Democrats Wayne DeAngelo, Daniel R. Benson and Marlene Caride 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 was released Thursday by an Assembly committee.
The bill (A-3535) establishes and 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 that released the bill. “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 Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “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.
“The expense of the damage is great and the heartache was even greater,” said Caride (D-Passaic/Bergen). “The better prepared we are for the next storm, hopefully the better the outcome will be for not only our residents, but our public utility infrastructure.”
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.
The commission will consist of 20 members selected as follows: the President of the Board of Public Utilities, ex officio, or designee, who would serve as Chair the Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, ex officio, or designee, the Director of the Division of Rate Counsel, ex officio, or designee, two members of the Senate to be appointed by the President of the Senate, which members shall not be of the same political party; two members of the General Assembly to be appointed by the Speaker of the General Assembly, which members shall not be of the same political party; four public members to be appointed by the Senate President, four public members to be appointed by the Speaker of the General Assembly, and five members appointed by the Governor. Of the members appointed by the Governor, three would be selected from a list submitted by the New Jersey Utilities Association, and two would be mayors: one selected from a list submitted by the New Jersey Conference of Mayors, and one selected from a list submitted by the New Jersey State League of Municipalities.
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.