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Utilities prep for Sandy amid heightened scrutiny

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As Hurricane Sandy barrels toward the mid-Atlantic, the state's utilities are facing the challenge of preparing for the storm in the face of increased scrutiny from their state regulator.

The August 2011 Hurricane Irene and last year's late October snowstorm brought massive power outages and a torrent of criticism, particularly for Jersey Central Power & Light, as local officials and Gov. Chris Christie complained about the length of time it took to restore power.

That prompted the Board of Public Utilities to commission a report, released in August, which recommended new procedures for the state's electrical utilities to follow for major storms. The report calls for utilities to use web sites, social media and pre-event news releases to help the public prepare for worst-case scenarios. Some of those recommendations could be made into mandates by the BPU.

The latest forecasts call for Hurricane Sandy to hit New Jersey early next week.

JCP&L began sending out press releases about the storm on Wednesday. A Friday press release from JCP&L's parent company, First Energy Corp., warned of the potential for power outages lasting up to seven to 10 days, and JCP&L President Don Lynch planned to hold a press conference Friday afternoon.

"While it appears that New Jersey has the potential to be the hardest-hit area, this massive weather event has the potential to cause damage across a large portion of First Energy's service territory," said Brian Kolts, a First Energy meteorologist, in the press release.

JCP&L said it has 700 First Energy personnel secured for storm recovery work, as well as 500-600 electrical contractors and 1,000 tree contractors.

Public Service Electric & Gas Co., the state's largest utility, said it has requested 1,300 linemen and 600 tree contractors from utilities in other states to help out if the storm hits.

Orange & Rockland Utilities Inc., the parent of Rockland Electric, said Friday it was looking to contract as many as 400 crews to help out with storm response.

Atlantic City Electric has not released storm crew numbers; however, the South Jersey utility has taken to social media to help residents prepare, posting a storm preparedness handbook on its Facebook page.

PSE&G spokesman Paul Rosengren said business customers should test their backup generators and have other emergency supplies like flashlights available. The utility has a dedicated line for businesses to report power outages - 855-BIZ-PSEG (855-249-7734).

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