Power outages followed in the wake of Tropical Storm Isaias, and regional power suppliers felt the heat as state legislators lamented their response to the electrical crisis.
The storm knocked more than 1.4 million New Jersey homes and businesses off the grid, with an estimated 5,340 Garden State residents still without power as of the morning of Aug. 10.
Led by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, members John McKeon (D-27), Christopher DePhillips (R-40), Angela McKnight (D-31) and Wayne DeAngelo (D-14) are among those calling for improvements following the power outages.
Lessons Learned from Hurricane Sandy
McKeon was among those legislators saying the state should have been better prepared for the storm, citing the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and lessons learned at that point.
“We have an opportunity to do better here, to correct course and tackle the infrastructural problems we’ve known how to fix since Superstorm Sandy: avoidable utility problems, which yet again caused power outages for 1.4 million in New Jersey in recent Tropical Storm Isaias,” he said.
McKeon pointed to two pieces of legislation introduced following Hurricane Sandy which would give the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) and state power companies authority to determine a process for hardening transmission lines. The second bill would implement higher standards for replacement or new utility poles to better withstand storms.
DePhillips Bill Would Revoke Power Company Franchises
Assemblyman DePhillips had a simple proposal for the state’s power companies: a bill he introduced would revoke power company franchises when they can’t restore electricity.
“There’s no excuse for chronic incompetence,” said DePhillips. “Keeping the lights on isn’t rocket science. People should be confident they’ll have heat or AC regardless of the weather. We are putting utilities on notice. Mayors will be able to look elsewhere for more responsive, efficient service.”
The bill would allow towns to revoke a franchise for poor service, and would limit franchise contracts to seven years. Additionally, it would increase penalties from $100 to up to $25,000 per day for violating BPU rules and regulations.
Joint Committee Meeting Convened
The Assembly Homeland Security and State Preparedness as well as the Telecommunications and Utilities Committees would convene to discuss the situation following Tropical Storm Isaias, according to Assembly members McKnight, DeAngelo, and Coughlin. The date of the meeting would be announced in the coming days.
“We understand unusually powerful storms like Isaias often result in loss of power for our residents, however there seems to be a disturbing pattern of lag times in restoration,” said McKnight, chair of the Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee.
Assemblyman DeAngelo said it was “unacceptable that some New Jersey families were without power for a week, and noted “so-called ‘100-year storms’ hit our state with regularity. With that in mind, we’d like to know how it is possible that utility companies serving New Jerseyans haven’t used their experience to be better prepared and more responsive.”
Assemblyman Coughlin echoed the sentiment, saying it was “intolerable that many of them are now living in their homes without power. They can’t charge their phones or computers. They have no air conditioning. Their refrigerators are not running. In the year 2020, residents suffering through such a lengthy power outage is unsatisfactory to say the least.”
The fines need to be high enough that they encourage adequate staffing and adequate PM. Even $25,000 per day does not do it. If it were $100 per day per customer after a set number of days (I’d say 1-3 depending on severity and how widespread the damage is) then 100,000 customers without power 3 days after a wide-ranging outage like Isaias would have meant that by Friday, JCP&L would have been fined $10,000,000 and probably $5,000,000 on Saturday and a bit less by Sunday. That’s significant, especially if the law prevents them from passing that cost on to ratepayers.