Assembly Panel Advances Stiffer Penalties for Utilities
Outrage over lengthy power outages sparks bipartisan legislation.
The Christie administration and the Legislature appear to be moving in lock step to stiffen penalties for the state’s utilities if they fail to quickly restore power and service after major storms.
With little debate, the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee unanimously approved a bill with bipartisan backing (A-2760), which largely reflects the key points in a proposal announced by Gov. Chris Christie.
Both lawmakers and the administration are unhappy with the response by the state’s four electric utilities to two powerful storms that pummeled the state last year.
A record 1.9 million customers were left without power after Hurricane Irene made landfall in New Jersey, and another 1 million customers were left without electricity in the wake of a rare October snowstorm.
Some customers in Toms River did not have service restored for up to five days. And many customers -- especially those served by Jersey Central Power & Light, the state's second-largest utility with about 1 million customers -- were left in the dark as they received inaccurate information or no information at all about when power would be restored.
The bill, which aims to hold utilities more accountable for service outages, is sponsored by the chairman of the committee, Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-Somerset).
The legislation, similar to a bill being pushed by the Republican administration, would authorize the state Board of Public Utilities to develop and enforce uniform performance benchmarks for service reliability, disruption in service, restoration of service, and emergency communications for utilities in the state.
Since being introduced by Chivukula this spring, however, the bill has been changed to reflect some of the proposals suggested by Christie, including raising the penalties for violations of the performance standards from $100 per day under the current law to $25,000 per day, with a maximum of $2 million for violations related to a particular event.
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