TRENTON – With thousands of New Jersey households – including numerous constituents – still without power after Superstorm Sandy, state Sen. Shirley K. Turner said Thursday that it is past time to require power companies to file comprehensive emergency response plans with state officials to ensure the timely restoration of power.
Turner drafted the legislation in 2011 after Tropical Storm Irene left countless homes dark for days, exposing the weakness that utility companies were not equipped to handle extensive outages in the aftermath of such a destructive storm.
“For too many of our residents, their experiences after Hurricane Sandy is déjà vu,” said Turner (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “If we had learned our lesson from last year, this year’s work to restore power would be organized and orderly with clear-cut deadlines and benchmarks, not another disjointed scramble. Ten days or more without power is too much to ask of our residents, especially senior citizens, disabled residents, and families with children. We need sound emergency plans in place to prevent these extensive outages in the future.”
The bill (S-467) would require the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to establish a set of best practices for every utility in the state to follow with regard to power outages; failure to meet the standards would result in a fine of $10,000 per violation, per day. In addition, all utility companies would be required to file an emergency response plan with the Board to serve as an official action plan in the event of a major power outage; failure to file an emergency response plan would subject the utility to a $1,000 per day fine until the plan is filed. Any fines collected due to noncompliance would be placed in an account to provide grants to municipalities affected by power outages for certain storm-related maintenance costs.
“Weather experts are warning us that the types of severe storms that we have experienced in the northeast are expected to be the norm rather than the exception,” said Turner. “Residents need some reassurance that their power company has a plan in place to prevent a lengthy power outage the next time a storm rolls up the coast.”
Turner said the bill would ensure companies actually take steps to prepare for a storm response, especially in light of a BPU investigation into utility responses to Tropical Storm Irene that was issued in September. That report noted that more action needed to be taken by power companies for vegetation management to protect exposed lines from being easily downed by falling trees and tree limbs, in following the nationally recognized Incident Command System model for “an effective and efficient restoration process,” as well as enhanced communications that can provide updated and accurate restoration information to the public, among other recommendations.
A preliminary BPU report into power company reactions to Tropical Storm Irene released in Dec 2011 singled out Jersey Central Power & Light as being “deficient” in its response.
“Ensuring that homes, school, hospitals and businesses have power needs to be a priority, not only so that the quality of life won’t be diminished for extended periods of time, but also because the longer the power is out, the more New Jersey’s economy suffers,” said Turner. “It’s been more than a week since Sandy, and all across the state businesses remain shut down, schools remain closed and families are enduring extraordinary expenses, hardships and inconveniences. It’s simply unacceptable.”
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