BPU & Utilities are Making Hurricane Sandy Impacts Worse

BPU & Utilities are Making Hurricane Sandy Impacts Worse Date : Fri, 2 Nov 2012 12:05:40 -0400

For Immediate Release
Nov 2, 2012 Contact: Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club, 609-558-9100

BPU & Utilities are Making Hurricane Sandy Impacts Worse Failure of Power and Leadership

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, millions in New Jersey still do not have power.The Board of Public Utilities (BPU) has been out of the picture, not providing updates or information for residents.Our utilities are struggling to get residents' electricity restored, despite high scrutiny to their inadequate response during last year's storms.The utilities failed to protect the power lines and electrical infrastructure in the first place and now they are unable to properly manage the impacts and aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.This costs New Jersey ratepayers billions of dollars in lost equipment, time, and business activity.We need the BPU to make significant changes to prevent this issues from occurring time after time as we see more severe storms each year.

"This has real consequences on public halt and safety and our economy.The failure of the utilities to protect our grid from the storm or have a quick response puts us all at risk and will lead to big losses in jobs and economic activity in our state," *said Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club*."Not having power for weeks at a time turns us into a third world nation where people boil their water on their outdoor grills and heat their home with fireplaces while reading by candle.We have seen people dying as a result of no power and using generators.The storm caused enough damage and now we have the utilities bring the state to its knees." The BPU has been invisible during this entire period, not holding any press conferences, public announcements or information sessions.All it has on their storm emergency website is links to the websites of the utilities.This is an outrageous failure of government in making sure the people and businesses of New Jersey have power or ensuring there is an adequate timeline for when power will return to certain areas.The BPU has had a power failure itself; they are more concerned about the utilities than the consumers. The last two heads of the BPU have had no background in energy policy or utility law and that could be part of the reason the agency has been so unprepared.

"The BPU is the 'Board of Promoting Utilities'. They seem to care more about utilities making money than protecting customers and rate payers.There has been a complete power failure from them in holding utilities accountable for blackouts," said Jeff Tittel."The Governor has been hiring former prosecutors to run the BPU, maybe they should at least prosecute the utilities for malfeasance." PSEG seems to be more concerned about building the Susquehanna-Roseland power line to Pennsylvania than improving the grid here in New Jersey by putting major lines underground and ensuring substations are not in flood prone areas.Instead of looking to export power to New York, PSEG should be looking to ensure their grid is reliable. Instead of solar on a stick they should ensure there is enough electricity going to people's houses.

"PSEG is more concerned with making money building out of state power lines to nowhere than fixing the grid here in New Jersey.PSEG earnings went up 31% last quarter.They are making record profits and should be investing that in their lines and infrastructure," said Jeff Tittel. During Hurricane Irene JCP&L said they were caught off guard and what happened there would never happen again.They were right, under Irene 60% of customers lost power but under Sandy it was closer to 90%.They said they were going to have crews on standby as soon as the storm was over but Hunterdon County mayors were told that crews would not even come in to do assessments until Friday, four days after the storm.We opposed the takeover of Jersey Central by First Energy saying distance corporate owners would not care about people in New Jersey as they would in Illinois were they are based and that seems to be the case yet again.They were criticized for failure to maintain power lines and cut trees to be ready for the next storm.For their customers that will be sitting in the dark for up to 2 weeks it is just another false promise from JCP&L.

"JCP&L stands for 'Jesus Christ Pray for Light' because the utility won't help you," said Jeff Tittel. "After Irene they promised to fix the problems so it would never happen again.They are a national leader in incompetence and arrogance.What they lack in competence they make up for in arrogance." The same could be said for Orange and Rockland.There have been no improvements from their dismal response to the storms last year. Atlantic Electric was more concerned about selling off property to a politically connected Republican developer than ensuring their power lines were secure and their substations were in the right places.Instead we have seen tremendous devastation to the grid in South Jersey and the impacts to homes and businesses. There is no notice from utilities to mayors and emergency personal of any kind of a timeline on when assessments will be done, let alone repairs.They have not been providing water and other materials to families that are suffering due to a lack of power. The cold weather is making the continuing blackouts worse.We could possibly be hit with a nor'easter, even snowfall, in the next couple of days., which would mean more people would suffer and lead to more tragedy.Not having electricity makes the disaster last longer and more people suffer. We also had issues at two of the state's nuclear power plants.Oyster Creek had a state of alert even though the plant was partially powered down and being refueled due to rising water levels and outages of parts of its warning system and the plant itself.Salem 1 and 2 in south Jersey also had issues as high river levels in the Delaware and storm debris impacted the plant, forcing the staff to manually shut the Salem 1 reactor off.If these plants had a closed loop system with cooling towers them would be much less vulnerable to extreme weather events, flooding and storm surges.Without cooling towers, the plants depend on continuous withdrawals from waterways to cool spent fuel, making the plant more vulnerable during power outages and to disruption of their water intake systems. In 1998 the Legislature narrowly passed energy deregulation allowing the utilities to sell off different parts of their companies and enter new businesses.What we have seen since energy deregulation is not the competition between providers we were promised, but monopolies raising rates, cutting services, and failing to maintain their grid, while investing in industrial parks and other things that have nothing to do with energy production or distribution.

"Deregulation has been an utter failure that has raised rates, cut services, and has helped lead to catastrophic failures of the grid," said Jeff Tittel. The Legislature and BPU held hearings after Hurricane Irene and everyone said things would be better and patted themselves on the back. Now things are worse, it is going to take even longer to get power to businesses and homes, having a devastating economic impact to the state along with the impact it is already having on families and lives. We need to make changes to the system.During preparation before a storm event and when the utilities do the repairs afterwards there needs to be state oversight.During the storm utilities should be monitored by the BPU to ensure they are taking the correct steps.The BPU needs to require the utilities to do a better job preventing problems in the first place by replacing older and vulnerable lines including putting lines underground. After a storm when the utilities are fixing the power lines and infrastructure they should not be allowed to bill ratepayers at their 12% rate of return.Instead the work should be done at cost.Additionally, utilities should not be allowed to come in and ask for rate increases after a storm because of additional costs or due to loss of revenue from people not buying power.Instead there should be compensation to rate payers and consumers for loss of food, appliances, and other property resulting during power outages.

"The utilities could use this as an excuse to gauge the ratepayers even more going for rate increases for loss of revenue from not selling power and then earning a 12% rate of return on fixing the lines they should have maintained in the first place.They are going to hit us in our homes and in our wallets," said Jeff Tittel. The more than 7,000 homes and businesses powered by solar are still getting electricity.Other renewable projects are working but cannot get into the grid due to what is happening with the storm.If we invest in renewable energy we decentralize the grid making it less susceptible to power line failures and help protect us from blackouts from storms while creating jobs and reducing greenhouse gases, and protecting us from sea level rise and climate change.Instead of investing in renewables, Governor Christie is slashing our states renewable energy goals and funding.

"Renewable energy reduces greenhouse gases while helping prevent blackouts.It keeps us powered when other sources of power do not work while protecting us from climate change and sea level rise," *said Jeff Tittel*.

 --  Kate Millsaps Conservation Program Coordinator NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club 609-656-7612