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EDITORIAL: Is it too much to ask to keep the lights on for businesses?

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It's hard to believe it's been more than a year since Public Service Electric & Gas filed its $3.9 billion Energy Strong plan with the Board of Public Utilities.

Fourteen months ago, when PSE&G officially took the wraps off the nearly $4 billion infrastructure-hardening plan, Obamacare was still a far-off nightmare, Chris Christie seemed like a presidential candidate, and Edward Snowden hadn't yet become a household name. And somehow, for a project of its substantial scope and ambition, it's no closer to getting started now than it was in the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy.

It's hard to argue that this is a pro-business state when a company that wants to create some 6,000 jobs and spend $3.9 billion to upgrade electrical utility infrastructure — its plan to defend against future hurricanes and superstorm events — has its application shelved for so long. There is every reason for the BPU to take a close look at this, given the high cost and the fact that ratepayers will be footing the bill, but the time to hash out this back and forth was months ago. Meanwhile, a winter as bad as this one saw the state escape the kind of widespread outages caused by Sandy and Irene, but only because a few potential nor'easters wound up blowing off track.

The biggest arguments against PSE&G's investment plan are two: the aforementioned payment plan, which puts customers on the hook for the money, and what critics call an unfocused series of upgrades. For executives, who pay a substantial share of the rates, the cost of the upgrade makes sense when measured against the costs of outages, which mean not only lost business but lost time as they are foxed to deal with FEMA, insurers and the like. As to the charge that the work isn't focused in a way that can help the most customers — well, again, it's been more than a year. Somebody tell PSE&G how to manage their planned upgrades better than they themselves have determined and at least we'll have something to go on here.

Nobody expects that, at the end of a 10-year investment plan, PSE&G will be able to predict the weather. But it shouldn't be too much to ask that the utility can keep the lights on for businesses the next time a disastrous storm strikes. A plan like this can provide that assurance. Let's hope PSE&G gets its answers — and soon.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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