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.