PSE&G’s $3.9 Billion Upgrade Plan Draws Support & Criticism

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STATE – New Jersey’s largest utility company held public hearings Monday on a 10-year, $3.9 billion plan to upgrade its network infrastructure.

Public Service Electric & Gas is seeking approval from the state’s Board of Public Utilities for the plan, which would pass costs on to consumers through immediate rate increases. According to the BPU, electric customers would see an average annual increase of $16 for five years, so at the end of five years they would be paying about $60 more than they do now. Gas heating customers would experience a similar increase.

PSE&G’s Energy Strong program is being touted as a way to make New Jersey’s infrastructure better able to withstand the next storm like Hurricane Sandy, but there was some dispute over how many customers would actually benefit.

“For most people, if a storm like Sandy ever comes back, this program is not likely to put them in a better position,” said Janine Bauer, an attorney representing AARP, which is opposed to the plan.

New Jersey Ratepayer Advocate Stefanie Brand said that by PSE&G’s own estimate, the upgrades would have prevented outages for approximately 800,000 customers – just 39 percent of the utility’s total.

Vaughn McKoy, an attorney representing PSE&G, said “Had the improvements we are proposing been in place during Sandy, a substantial portion of PSE&G’s service interruptions would have been avoided and those who lost power would have been restored more quickly.”

Bud Thoman, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 94, spoke in favor of the plan. “It seems to me like a simple choice. We can continue the Band-Aid approach or we can make an investment to prepare for the next Super Storm Sandy and save us $7 billion in the future,” he said, referring to the estimated costs of last year’s hurricane.

Additional public hearings are scheduled for Thursday in New Brunswick, at 3:30 p.m., and 6:30 p.m., in the Middlesex County Administration Building, John F. Kennedy Square, by Bayard Street, in the first floor meeting room.

A final round of public hearings will take place on Oct. 7, at 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., in Cherry Hill, in the municipal building, 820 Mercer Street.

BPU is expected to make a decision on the plan later this year or early in 2014.

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