NJ utilities may get power to chop trees, whether you like it or not
TRENTON — Electric utilities would be authorized to use all available methods to remove or trim trees and other vegetation near their power distribution system under a bill advancing in the Legislature – including trees not on their right-of-way, even if a county or town shade tree commission doesn’t approve.
The Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee endorsed the bill Thursday. It was approved in June by the Senate Economic Growth Committee.
In the snowstorms that crippled electricity service in North Jersey back in March, almost 2,000 poles were damaged and 100 miles of wires had to be restored. Tom Giuliano of the Board of Public Utilities said trees caused the majority of that – many of them not on the right-of-way.
“It’s not an easy task. A lot of the shade tree commissions object to heavy trimming of trees. But we do isolate in the report that more needs to be done,” said Giuliano, the BPU’s director of reliability and security, referring to review done by the agency after the snowstorms.
Trees and power outages are a big issue in northwest New Jersey, but Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo, D-Mercer, said he sees similar issues when driving through the Pine Barrens.
“The trees exceed the height of the poles,” DeAngelo said. “They’re not in the right-of-way, but when they fall they’re taking down dangerous voltage.”
DeAngelo said he’s still working with Gov. Phil Murphy’s office on some definitions in the bill but that they haven’t yet reached an agreement.
The Sierra Club said the bill gives too much leeway to utility companies to clear vegetation and that burying power lines in some parts of the state would be a better solution.
Another DeAngelo bill that advanced Thursday would have the state look into requiring concrete, steel or fiberglass-reinforced utility poles.
While Friday’s the last full day of summer, lawmakers and utility regulators are already thinking about winter. At Thursday’s hearing, they reviewed the recommendations for changes at the electric utilities after the extended power outages from last March’s snowstorms.
Giuliano said the report done by the state found rapid changes in the weather forecasts caused the utilities, JCP&L especially, to severely miscalculate the potential damage. The BPU wants better modeling of the impacts and prepositioning of utility crews.
“We want them to lean way forward in preparing this. There is a cost. But I think residents are willing to understand there’s a cost as long as their lights can come on quicker,” he said.
The BPU is also recommending the use of smart meters, which Guiliano says can give utilities insight into which individual houses are without power in ways not possible today.
The agency also ordered JCP&L to increase the staff that handles the logistics when thousands of utility workers come to New Jersey to help restore power when needed.