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Effective criticism of ‘powers that be’ at utility companies

The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy has had municipal governments, regulators and consumers looking at utilities in a new light. Of the utilities serving New Jersey, Ohio-based First Energy, parent of Jersey Central Power & Light, has attracted the most heat. The company has been sued by a group of 21 individuals and one corporation.

The progressive mayor of West Windsor, Shing-Fu Hsueh, fired a salvo at JCP&L in the form of a letter to Gov. Chris Christie. He complained about JCPL’s customer support in West Windsor and compared it unfavorably with New Jersey-based PSE&G. Both utilities service clients in the area. The mild-mannered mayor was so incensed that he also advocated charging unresponsive utility companies heftier fines of $25,000 per incident.

The mayor also made the larger point that municipalities should not have to coordinate relief efforts with two utility companies, and he asked the governor to look into the feasibility of rationalizing utility service so that — at least in West Windsor — they would only have to deal with PSE&G.

Would it make technical and logistical sense for the governor and Board of Public Utilities President Robert Hanna to work toward this? After all, streamlining the number of utility jurisdictions to one per municipality could make sense for the utilities as well.

To get a wider perspective on this, I checked in with Cranbury Mayor David Cook and East Windsor Mayor Janice Mironov. They both lead adjoining communities, but had a more charitable view of JCP&L, while they acknowledged the trials and tribulations that both utilities and their clients had to contend with.

Cook confirmed that Cranbury was mostly PSE&G country, but had around 200 JCP&L users. According to Mironov, East Windsor is virtually all serviced by JCP&L, except for possibly one PSE&G customer. Mironov, who recently led an effort on energy tax reform, was more interested in setting uniform standards that all utilities would be required to follow.

I have suggested to William Dressel, executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, that he consider getting the League involved in this conversation. That said, the League is still reeling from Christie’s recent veto of bipartisan energy tax reform legislation, and therefore may not want to take its eye off that ball.

In any event, thanks to Hsueh for his letter of constructive criticism to the “powers that be.” New Jersey municipalities served by more than one utility should at least insist on common performance standards and procedures.


Pravin J. Philip, principal consultant

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