Bill First Introduced Before Sandy to Improve Utility Reliability, Storm Preparedness & Accountability Advances With Bipartisan Support
The Senate Economic Growth Committee has passed legislation sponsored by Senator Joe Pennacchio to hold utility companies accountable for their failure to provide reliable service.
Sen. Joe Pennacchio’s bipartisan bill would hold utility companies accountable for failing to provide reliable service. Pictured: a New Jersey street without power following Superstorm Sandy. (SenateNJ.com)
“Right now, a negligent utility only pays $100 a day in fines,” Senator Pennacchio (R-26) explained. “That penalty is not only completely ineffective, it is an insult to the thousands of families who have suffered for days, or even weeks without power. How much money have they lost because of these outages? Probably a lot more than $100 a day. We must hold these companies accountable for getting the lights back on as quickly as possible.”
Pennacchio’s legislation was first introduced on October 1, 2012, nearly a month before Superstorm Sandy, in response to extended power outages following Hurricane Irene and an October snowstorm in 2011.
During the April 5 Senate Economic Growth Committee hearing, Senator Pennacchio’s bill, S-889, was merged with two similar bills that were also up for consideration: S-2221, which is sponsored by Senator Shirley Turner (D-15); and S-719, which is sponsored by Senators Linda Greenstein (D-14) and Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-5.) The final legislation was passed out of the committee with bipartisan support.
The now bipartisan legislation would require the Board of Public Utilities to develop and enforce performance benchmarks for service reliability and communications for electric utilities. Additionally, the bill requires public utilities to file a service reliability plan and an emergency communications strategic plan for review and approval by the BPU.
Under the bill, if the BPU finds a utility has failed to meet standards in its service reliability or communications plan, or finds the utility’s performance to be less than effective, the bill allows for the imposition of civil penalties of up to $25,000 per day for each violation, up to $2 million for any series of related events.
The legislation would also bar utilities from passing on the cost of these penalties on to ratepayers, in order to ensure that power companies are held fully accountable for lack of action in the wake of a storm.
“Although I’ve advocated for these changes since the days of Hurricane Irene and ‘Snowtober’ back in 2011, the recent nor’easters in our area really emphasized the critical need for us to take action,” Senator Pennachio added. “I’m grateful to see this bill now has bipartisan support. Although utilities generally have been responsive during emergencies, we can’t expect major improvements to occur unless we take action. I am confident that our legislation will incentivize power companies to put together a plan for maintaining the lines, and finally prevent these outages from occurring in the first place.”
Related Facebook Post: