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Utilities Board Report Pushes for Better Storm Preparations

After last year's storms, electrical service companies are being told to provide better communications, response.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities released a report Wednesday detailing its findings from following the October nor'easter and Tropical Storm Irene last year that left millions without electrical service for days.

The report—Performance Review of EDCs in 2011 Major Storms—included recommendations to prevent a repeat of the companies' problems. The board had already singled out Jersey Central Power & Light in a preliminary report made in December requiring the company institute a communications plan developed by the BPU staff. 

Additional recommendations include power companies offering more detailed tracking of outages caused by trees, as well as more detailed outage reports for customers that include estimated times for service restoration. The companies are also urged to establish "Incident Command Systems" to better organize responses, and establish formal plans for calling on service crews from affiliated companies when necessary.

The board also recommended power companies use social media tools to better communicate information to customers, and conduct training exercises to be ready for major service issues.    

“The board has taken, and will continue to take, action to significantly improve the electric companies’ performance in the areas of preparedness for severe weather events, ability to communicate accurate and timely information effectively to customers and local authorities, and effectiveness of recovery operations,” Bob Hanna, president of the Board of Public Utilities, said.  “The board will continue to guide and monitor the EDCs to ensure each company is better prepared to confront severe weather conditions that impair and disrupt the lives of residents across the state.”

The BPU noted in a press release regarding the study that while last year's storms were unusual, with about 1.9 million of the state’s 3.9 million electric customers losing electrical service for up to nine days, thunderstorms this summer caused several serious outages also. 

The board will present its report with an analysis of the response from New Jersey's four regulated power companies to the storms at a special meeting at 1 p.m. Sept. 12 in Committee Room 16 of the State House Annex, in Trenton. The meeting will include opportunity for public comment; written comments can be sent to Board.secretary@bpu.state.nj.us until Sept. 20.  

JCP&L responded to the report's release noting it is "reviewing the recommendations in the Board of Public Utilities’ (BPU) storm report, will continue to cooperate with the BPU, and is committed to exploring opportunities that will improve service and reliability for our customers."

"As has been well documented, JCP&L has made many improvements in how we respond to major storms following Hurricane Irene and the October snowstorm," the company said in a press release. "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.  We will continue to work to provide the kind of reliable electric service our 1 million JCP&L customers expect and deserve." 

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