County: We demand JCP&L reimburse customers after Isaias
Officials in Morris County say they're "demanding" utility company JCP&L reimburse ratepayers who lost food and medicine to extended outages after — something the company has resisted doing.
In early August, Isaias left about 1.3 million New Jerseyans without power — some for as much as a week. JCP&L has said about 778,000 of its customers were affected, exceeding earlier projections about 450,000 would lose power
JCP&L president Jim Fakult during a press conference in early August said it is not the utility's policy to reimburse customers for food loss, after Ocean County Freeholders said they plan to ask Gov. Phil Murphy to seek reimbursement from the utilities.
"We suggest inquiring with your insurance company to determine if your policy covers such losses," Fakult said in a statement at the time.
This week, the Morris County Board of Freeholders — soon to be known as county commissioners — joined their peers in Ocean and others, saying JCP&L owes the 130,000 county residents affected by outages. The Morris freeholders said 30,000 of their residents still had no power five days after the storm.
"The duration of that outage was not only unacceptable ... but it also was potentially life-threatening to people requiring power for medical reasons," the freeholders said in a press statement about a resolution to the same effect.
The resolution is only a statement of the freeholders' position. It isn't legally binding and doesn't force JCP&L to reimburse anyone for lost food or medicine.
The resolution says JCP&L failed to properly communicate with its customers and public officials about extended outages as well.
“This is about the corporation and those who run it, not the line crews who literally risked their own safety when JCP&L recruit them to deal with downed power lines and storm-damaged trees,” Freeholder Tayfun Selen, said in the press statement from the county.
At an all-remote Assembly hearing this month, Fakult said he was "proud of the restoration curve" after a particularly brutal storm.
Assemblyman Greg McGuckin, R-Ocean, said JCP&L did better than it had after after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 or Hurricane Irene in 2011 but is still frustrating.
“It’s a four-way race here (among New Jersey's largest utilities), and JCP&L seems to come in fourth every single time,” McGuckin said.
The resolution wants JCP&L ratepayers refunded for their August electric bills, and for medications and food lost in the outages. It also asks the state Board of Public Utilities to make JCP&L invest in infrastructure to strengthen its network and avoid lengthy outages.
Utility company PSE&G said earlier this month it would expand its claims policy so that customers without electricity for at least 72 hours between Aug. 4 and 12 could seek reimbursement for lost items.
PSE&G will reimburse residential customers up to $250 for food spoilage and a separate maximum of $300 for spoiled medication. Commercial customers could recoup up to $5,000 for spoiled food, with valid proof of loss, according to the utility. It's a reversal of the company's standard policy, which stood as recently as the week prior.
“We recognize that losing power in August, together with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, was a hardship for many of our customers,” PSE&G President Dave Daly said at the time “Given the unique combination of circumstances, we believe the right thing to do is to expand our claims process to ease the burden on the customers most impacted by Tropical Storm Isaias.”
— Includes previous reporting by Dan Alexander and Michael Symons