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Senator Wants to Lay Down the Law to Utilities: 'Never Again'

Lesniak bill calls for stormproofed substations, widely deployed smart meters, to prevent the outages that followed Sandy.

Its most prominent proponent calls it the "Never Again Campaign", a curious choice of words given that one of the most trusted tenets in Trenton shared by lobbyists and politicians alike is: “Never say 'never.'’’

Nonetheless, the Legislature may soon move a bill that would require the state’s electric utilities to make significant improvements to the power grid in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, according to a veteran lawmaker.

The bill's goal is to prevent the type of widespread outages in the wake of the storm, which left more than two million customers without power, some of which (on the state’s barrier islands) have yet to get their lights on.

Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) said yesterday he hopes to introduce the bill early next month, prior to a meeting when utility executives are expected to appear before a Senate panel, which is exploring what steps the state needs to take to respond to the worst storm ever to land in New Jersey.

His bill will include measures aimed at ensuring utilities restore power more quickly during major storms. This includes requiring smart meters to be installed in homes and businesses, which will afford utilities almost instant notification of where and when customers have lost power. A record 2.7 million people were left in the dark following the hurricane, and a nor’easter, which hit the state about a week later.

During Sandy, as in past majors storms, the utilities came under criticism for providing inaccurate information -- none at all -- about when and where power would be restored. For instance, in Brick Township, Jersey Central Power & Light called local officials to inquire if an elementary school had power or not, according to Stephen Acropolis, the community’s mayor.

An even bigger priority, Lesniak said, is to make utility substations and transfer stations stormproof by fortifying them against flooding, elevating them, or moving them to new locations.

In last month’s storm, 58 substations were knocked offline, more than four times the number that flooded during Hurricane Irene. If a substation lose powers, it can cause outages for tens of thousands of customers, far more than those who lose electricity when a tree takes out a local distribution line.

Both of those issues also are expected to be the focus of upcoming hearings on the storm held by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, which oversees the state’s electric companies. In the past, the agency has shied away from smart meters, in part because of the possible impact on charges to customers, who typically pay among the highest energy bills in the country.

In its monthly meeting last week, BPU President Bob Hanna vowed to weigh the costs and benefits of improving the utilities’ infrastructure during hearings to be held around the state. “

He also issued a prediction. “Extreme weather is a fact of life. It’s going to continue.’’

Lesniak conceded that the cost of upgrading the utilities' infrastructure is likely to cost more than $1 billion, but argued that the expense, primarily driven by the substation issue, could be spread out over a longer period of time, easing the impact on ratepayers.

He projected that installing smart meters could cost families about $2 per year, if spread out over a long period. Even the more expensive cost of upgrading substations, Lesniak argued, would be supported by most.

Continue reading on NJSpotlight.com.

NJ Spotlight is an issue-driven news website that provides critical insight to New Jersey’s communities and businesses. It is non-partisan, independent, policy-centered and community-minded.

Ira L. Marks December 03, 2012 at 03:31 PM
I support Senator Lesniak's initiative. if the BPU were doing its job, there would be no need to promote this initiative.
morrigan December 03, 2012 at 04:21 PM
Weather conditions we have been considering extraordinary may well become routine with the climate change that seems to be accelerating these days. I agree that, overall, the power companies really did an exemplary job getting us back on the grid, given the nature and the extent of the damage done to our state by Sandy. I have no doubt that they are working on ways to ameliorate or avoid some of the problems they encountered this time around. If the challenges are really going to continue getting worse -- increasingly harsher and devastating storms, bizarre weather anomalies -- we all are going to have to find and implement ever more innovative solutions. We may need to make some changes. Are the barrier islands places we really should be building on? Will communities along the ocean and waterways need to rethink their land use? It's going to take a lot of thought and some real wisdom to decide which of these things can and should be legislated, and which should be encouraged but not legislated, and which should be allowed to evolve.
Leslie Bianczik December 03, 2012 at 04:52 PM
"...requiring smart meters to be installed in homes and businesses, which will afford utilities almost instant notification of where and when customers have lost power." I think I saw the lobbyist from the smart meter company pulling away from Lesniak's office.
raymond Weis December 03, 2012 at 08:44 PM
Yeah lets do all of these things.and then no one would notice a power outage because we could'nt afford to turn the lights on.
Chris December 06, 2012 at 05:48 PM
Utilities don't want to hire enough workers to take care of outage issues rapidly. Getting rid of more workers through smart meters will NOT fix that problem. More importantly, WIRELESS SMART METERS ARE DANGEROUS AND THERE ARE MANY HEALTH PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH THEM. If the Congressman wants to require smart meters then they should have to be NONE RF EMITTING meters such as a fiber optic system. Exchanging one problem for another is short sighted and knowing you have a power outage doesn't mean the utility has hired enough people to fix the problems.

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