NJ looks to boost fines for utilities that mishandle storms
Electric companies’ response to storm emergencies gets a double-dose of attention from state government Thursday, as regulators open a series of public hearings into the March snowstorms and lawmakers consider a significant increase in potential fines.
Penalties for electric utilities who don’t follow storm response procedures are currently $100 to $250 per violation. State Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, said legislation is needed that would raise the fines because the same problems keep happening in the same areas of New Jersey.
“We have to have it in place because we’ve seen we can’t rely on the power companies to provide the service, and they’re not being accountable like they should be,” Turner said.
Turner sponsors legislation, S2221, that would raise the fines to $10,000 per violation per day, capped at $1 million per event. Other proposals also up for a vote boost the penalty to $25,000 per violation, capped at $2 million.
Turner said long-term blackouts after storms keep happening in rural portions of her legislative district, like East Amwell, Hopewell and West Amwell townships.
“But that should not be the case,” Turner said. “They should receive the same kind of service. They’re paying the same rates as everybody else, so they should get the same kind of response and service as everybody else.”
The bills up for votes Thursday date back to 2012 – first proposed after Hurricane Irene, before Superstorm Sandy.
“It never got any traction because of course the sun came out and all was well,” Turner said.
The legislative hearing comes on the same day the state Board of Public Utilities holds the first of five public hearings about the handling of the March nor’easters, in which some customers were still without power from one storm when the next one came through the following week.
Thursday’s public hearing is at Byram Intermediate School in Sussex County. Additional hearings will be held in Parsippany on April 12 and Mahwah on April 16. Hearings are planned in Hunterdon County and South Jersey, but dates have not yet been set.