Why thousands of JCP&L customers still have no power in brutal NJ heat
Thousand of New Jersey residents — particularly around Hunterdon and Ocean Counties — remained without power as the heat index approached 110 degrees Sunday morning.
And several told New Jersey 101.5 or the utility company itself they're frustrated — having trouble getting anyone on the phone, getting wrong information or seeing estimated power restoration times come and go.
"We do know it's been hot and humid, so being without service is difficult right now," Christy Hajoway, a spokesperson for JCP&L, told New Jersey 101.5 Sunday morning.
Of the state's three largest power companies, JCP&L seemed hardest hit by the outages, with nearly 2,000 customers without service Sunday morning in Ocean County alone.
In the area of Stockton in Hunterdon County, hundreds of people had been without power at some points during the weekend. JCP&L's online power maps showed just 24 still without service in that area Sunday morning. New Jersey 101.5 had been contacted by some people saying they still didn't have power — it wasn't immediately clear whether they're accounted for in the 24 JCP&L knew about about.
One resident of the Stockton area, B. Margolin, told New Jersey 101.5 in an email power first went out around 6 p.m, Friday.
"Although the area experienced rain and brisk winds, little damage was evident, perhaps a small branch here and there," Margolin wrote. I didn't see a downed bough or tree."
According to Margolin, he was told by a customer service representative three crews had been dispatched to the area — but Margolin said he didn't see anyone working at three trouble spots identified on JCP&L's website.
"JCPL customer service representatives have variously assured us and our neighbors that power would be restored by 9p Fri, then 11p Fri ... then 1am Sat ... 3am Sat; 8am Sat; 12p Sat ... After these deadlines were missed, 'estimated' restoration was first given as 5p Sat and then as 6p Sat, then 7p ... and now is 9p Sat.," Margolin wrote Saturday night.
Hajoway said a substation in a wooded area had been badly damaged by storms this week, and "crews are working around the clock to make those repairs."
She said extra crews had been brought on board to help with the work.
In addition, she said, JCP&L was attending to several small-scale outages, some affecting individual customers because of very localized damage or other problems. Those repairs could take longer to get to, she said.
But she estimated most northern New Jersey customers should see power restored by 8 p.m. Sunday.
The Ocean County outages — mostly around the Point Pleasant area — were caused by a downed pole and should end early in the afternoon, Hajoway said.
Several JCP&L customers took to Twitter this weekend to say they couldn't get a representative from the power company on the phone, or that they couldn't get clear information online or via phone about what was being done to address their problems.
In cases where JCP&L appears to have fixed a problem but a customer remains without power, Hajoway said, there may be additional pieces of equipment damaged or other issues in the system that need to be addressed.
As to why residents have difficulty getting someone on the phone: JCP&L's customer call center is staffed Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and customer support is available by phone on the weekend only for emergencies, Hajoway said.
JCP&L can also accept text outages texting OUT to 544487.
The company is distributing free water and ice to residents of affected areas in Hunterdon County at the following locations:
Kings Food Markets
531 US Highway 22 E
Whitehouse Station, NJ
ShopRite of Flemington
272 Rt. 202 & Rt. 31
ShopRite of Clinton
50 Walmart Plaza
ShopRite of Greenwich
1297 US Highway 22
JCP&L received heavy criticism for its response to superstorm Sandy, with many residents and elected officials criticizing the company for slow repair work and poor communication.
More than 100 people attended a BPU hearing on the response in 2012. One woman told commissioners: “I saw school children stepping over downed wires to get on a school bus – and it’s not as if JCP&L didn’t know those downed wire were there – we called them for 10 straight days to tell them that, and there was just no action."
Kersey Central Power and Light (JCP&L) president Don Lynch took the brunt of the anger from State Senator Kevin O’Toole at a State Senate Budget hearing the same year.
“Maybe you need more line workers,” O’Toole said to Lynch. “Maybe you need more infrastructure. Maybe you need a better inventory and investment in your communication bank. A lot of things went wrong and a lot of it in JCP&L went wrong. Some was okay. Some was a disaster and you have to bear some responsibility.”
In the aftermath of Sandy, then-Washington Township Mayor Ken Short lashed out at the utility company, saying there was "no disaster plan set up."
"These people are all so disorganized and communication is terrible to elected officials," he told NJ.com at the time. "It shouldn't take nine days to get more information. We're a third-world country right now." A Somerset Freeholder called the storm response "abysmal," saying it left residents of that county "in a crisis situation."
JCP&L, in several public statements since Sandy, noted the storm was the most severe to hit New Jersey in modern history. It also has said it's made significant infrastructure and communications improvement since then.
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