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Proposed Bill Would Levy Big Fines on Unprepared Utility Companies

Under governor's proposed legislation, utilities like JCP&L could face up to $25,000 per day in penalties for failing to adhere to their own service and communications plans.

Gov. Chris Christie wants utility companies held accountable for their emergency preparedness. Following the findings of a Board of Public Utilities (BPU) investigation released Wednesday, Christie proposed legislation empowering regulators to levy hefty fines against utilities.

The legislation raises potential administrative penalties against companies from $100 to $25,000 per daily assessment. Utility companies would be barred from passing those costs along to ratepayers, Christie said. The bill prioritizes preparedness, according to the governor, requiring utility companies to provide detailed service delivery and communications plans to the BPU. Companies that fail to adequately follow their own plans will face the $25,000 per day civil penalty for a maximum of $2 million in fines.

“Hurricane Irene and then the October snowstorm posed some serious, unprecedented challenges for our utility providers,” Christie said in the statement. “While those storms brought out the real professionalism of so many of the employees of the public utilities, they also exposed the vulnerabilities of our utility infrastructure and avoidable mistakes, including the ability to communicate accurate, dependable and timely information to customers and local authorities.”

The Morristown area was particularly hard hit by both , which resulted in widespread power outages and damage to above-ground powerlines from tree limbs weighed down by heavy powder, as well as Hurricane Irene, whose fury crested the Whippany River, .

Ron Morano, media representative for JCP&L, said the utility company is reviewing the BPU's recommendations in its storm report and "will continue to cooperate with the BPU.

", JCP&L has made many improvements in how we respond to major storms and the ," Morano said in the statement. "Since last August, JCP&L added line crews and operations managers, invested $200 million in the reliability of the distribution and transmission system and adopted new procedures and technology. The company also is providing more frequent and better information to local officials and customers before and during outages."

The BPU review provided specific action items for utility companies to increase preparedness, response and recovery during future storms.

While Christie said he found utility companies have responded better to severe weather events in 2012, he noted the companies have not faced a widespread event that matched the impact of Hurricane Irene and the sudden October snowfall.

PeterB September 05, 2012 at 09:10 PM
Will these fines then be passed on to the consumer?
clyde donovan September 05, 2012 at 10:29 PM
You don't really think the stockholders would absorb the fines, do you? It's just a crafty, corrupt way to tax these utilities but really make the customers pay for it. It's another one of those hidden taxes we all pay that makes America the highest-tax place to live in the world - and New Jersey one of the highest-tax places in the United States.
BiggDogg September 06, 2012 at 01:59 PM
the article states that "Utility companies would be barred from passing those costs along to ratepayers" but as Clyde said, we will be paying it some way or another. And to think, our forefathers came to America to escape Britains' excessive taxes, now look where we are.
Tryclyde September 07, 2012 at 04:42 PM
Wow, history major?

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