Sen. Jim Holzapfel and Assemblymen Dave Wolfe and Greg McGuckin, all R-Ocean, have introduced legislation that would prohibit a public utility from filing for a rate increase when a utility company’s authorized rate of return is being question by the Board of Public Utilities (BPU).
The lawmakers, who represent many of the hardest hit areas from Super Storm Sandy and the nor’easter which followed 10 days later, said the measure, S-2537/A-3698, is in response to Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) Company’s request for a $31.5 million rate hike while facing serious charges from state regulators who contend JCP&L earned nearly $90 million more than permitted by BPU in 2010. The utility is requesting the increase to cover costs incurred from Hurricane Irene and the October snowstorm, both in 2011.
“JCP&L customers hold their collective breath every time the rains fall and the winds blow, because, based on previous disastrous performances, they fear prolonged loss of their power,” said Holzapfel. “Its request for a rate hike is not only unfair, it’s offensive.”
At an Assembly Telecommunications & Utilities Committee hearing last month, McGuckin, a committee member, asked JCP&L’s president to withdraw the utility’s proposed increase until BPU determined if the company earned an excessive return in 2010. Since the company ignored the request, McGuckin said he and his colleagues have introduced legislation to address the issue.
“In light of suspicions that JCP&L overcharged ratepayers and following its disastrous response to the 2011 storms and continued poor performance in the aftermath of Sandy, the company’s request for a rate increase is unconscionable,” said McGuckin. “JCP&L should have used its 2010 profits to improve infrastructure and its response to major storms. It’s obvious that didn’t happen. Instead, they responded to Sandy with more misinformation and a lack of communication and preparation. While it is my hope that BPU will do the right thing and deny the request, this bill will ensure that ratepayers are protected from unwarranted increases in the future.”
“Far too many customers suffered much hardship as a result of going weeks without electricity in 2011 following Irene and the snowstorm and again after Sandy,” stated Wolfe. “Now those same ratepayers are being asked to pay more to an energy provider that is clearly unreliable. JCP&L has failed on several occasions to restore power in a timely manner to millions during widespread outages. Asking them to pay more for such deplorable service, especially when their earnings are in question is unthinkable.”
The bill would prohibit a public utility from filing a rate increase request when it has been directed by the BPU to file a base rate case to determine whether the utility company has exceeded its authorized rate of return or if it has been notified by BPU that it is under investigation for exceeding its authorized rate of return. It also would prohibit the BPU from considering, reviewing or approving such a request under the same circumstances.
If granted, JCP&L’s rate hike would take effect August 2013 and would result in a 1.4 percent increase in the average residential customer’s bill. The proposed increase does not include the half-billion dollar costs incurred from Sandy which the company is expected to recoup in the future with another rate hike proposal.