AARP, lawmakers demand action in JCP&L rate case
Amid ongoing allegations that Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) has been overcharging customers for years, dozens of AARP members joined a group of lawmakers in Trenton on Wednesday to call on the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to crackdown on the utility.
AARP delivered more than 6,500 postcard petitions, calling on the BPU to take action.
According to the group, it's been three years since the New Jersey Division of the Rate Counsel first asked the BPU to open a rate case to investigate the earnings of JCP&L. Since then, the group says, the BPU has been provided with extensive evidence demonstrating that the company has earned $200 million more than it is legally allowed to.
State Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Cranbury) said she has received numerous complaints from people who were not in their homes during the winter, yet their utility bills were mysteriously skyrocketing.
"It's a real problem, and for whatever reason the BPU has not chosen to act yet," Greenstein said. "So far, they are not taking the steps they need to take against JCP&L, which has been shamelessly earning too much money for too many years. They need to be reined in. They need to provide relief to the consumers who have been so aggrieved by them for so many years."
Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande (R-Freehold) agreed that it's time for this matter to be handled.
"What's been going on has been unacceptable for too long. It is my hope the BPU hears us, does its job, and starts to protect New Jersey's ratepayers from illegally high utility rates. Utility customers have a right to fair service - they have a right to quality service and it's time for the BPU to understand this, and make sure JCP&L's ratepayers are treated fairly," Casagrande said.
Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo (D-Hamilton), chairman of the Telecommunications and Utilities Committee, said lawmakers want open and transparent utilities. "All that we're asking is making sure that what we're paying for, the profits aren't going to corporate America."
Casagrande said it's been documented that JCP&L has been sending excess profits to its parent company since 2010 while not spending enough on its infrastructure. She said the state Division of the Rate Counsel found in 2010 alone, JCP&L was earning a 12.37 percent profit, while the legal limit for profit of a regulated utility in New Jersey is 8.5 percent.
"We know in 2010 JCP&L earned over $90 million in excess profits, which means they may have earned $450 million over the past 5 years. The BPU has known about this for years, and it's time to take action. Year after year these high rates continue and nobody's given their money back - it's outrageous," Casagrande said.
When asked if JCP&L has overcharged its customers, a company spokesman said, "We are only allowed to charge what the BPU approves."
A BPU spokesman said the JCP&L rate case is currently in the hands of an administrative law judge, and a decision is expected by the end of the month. At that point, the board will review the decision and then take any action that is appropriate.
If the judge decides customers have been overcharged, and the BPU agrees with that decision, JCP&L could be required to reduce rates. However, under state law, customers would not be allowed to receive any refunds for previous years when they were charged higher rates.