DeAngelo, Quijano & Benson Bill to Protect Consumers by Improving NJ's Public Utility Infrastructure Goes to Governor

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Wayne DeAngelo, Annette Quijano and Daniel Benson to begin minimizing the impact of severe weather on consumers after the vast power outages that affected millions of homes and businesses in New Jersey during Superstorm Sandy was approved 62-10 Monday by the Assembly, giving it final legislative approval.

The bill (A-2586) would establish the Energy Infrastructure Commission to study the state's public utility network.

 

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Wayne DeAngelo, Annette Quijano and Daniel Benson to begin minimizing the impact of severe weather on consumers after the vast power outages that affected millions of homes and businesses in New Jersey during Superstorm Sandy was approved 62-10 Monday by the Assembly, giving it final legislative approval.

The bill (A-2586) would establish the Energy Infrastructure Commission to study the state's public utility network.

"The bill is derived from concerns raised during and after Superstorm Sandy when many consumers lost power because of downed power lines caused by high winds or fallen trees, as well as extensive flooding of substations in low-lying areas," said DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex), Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee chair. "More than two million homes and businesses lost power during the storm. While we can't prevent another storm from coming, we can try to lessen the impact by proactively improving our energy system."

"This storm caused severe hardships for our state," said Quijano (D-Union). "As we recover, we should look for ways we can mitigate the potential for damage, including improving our infrastructure to prevent power outages and improving communication between residents and utility companies about outages so people can plan better."

Sixty-five percent of New Jersey utility customers lost power due to the storm. Depending on their location, degree of physical damage and utility company, some residents had to wait weeks before their power was restored.

"The power outages we experienced after Superstorm Sandy were not a mere inconvenience. For families uncertain about whether to dispose of food stored in the refrigerator and our residents dependent upon medical devices that require electricity, for example, this was a matter of public health and safety," said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "This legislation is about working responsibly to safeguard the welfare of New Jersey residents in anticipation of the next natural disaster."

The bill establishes the "Energy Infrastructure Study Commission."

The commission is to consist of 19 members selected as follows:
-the President of the Board of Public Utilities, ex officio, or designee, who is to serve as Chair;
-the Commissioner of Community Affairs, ex officio, or designee;
-the Director of the Division of Rate Counsel, ex officio, or designee;
-two members of the Senate to be appointed by the President of the Senate, who are not to be of the same political party;
-two members of the General Assembly to be appointed by the Speaker of the General Assembly, who are not to be of the same political party;
-four public members to be appointed by the Senate President, who are to include:
--an individual with expertise in electric distribution infrastructure;
--a representative of employees in the energy sector;
--a representative of a Statewide consumer advocacy organization having certain qualifications; and
--a representative of a Statewide environmental advocacy organization having certain qualifications;
-four public members to be appointed by the Speaker of the General Assembly, who are to include:
--an individual with expertise in electric distribution infrastructure;
--a representative of employees in the energy sector;
--a representative of a Statewide consumer advocacy organization having certain qualifications; and
--a representative of a Statewide environmental advocacy organization having certain qualifications; and
-four public members appointed by the Governor, who are to include:
--an individual with expertise in electric distribution infrastructure;
--a representative of a Statewide consumer advocacy organization having certain qualifications;
--an individual with expertise in municipal governance; and
--an individual with expertise in emergency management.
Under the bill, within one year after its organizational meeting, the commission is to study and make findings and recommendations to the Governor and to the Legislature, including legislation, with regard to:
the development and deployment of energy efficiency and Class I renewable energy given new and improving technologies;
a comprehensive, comparative cost and feasibility analysis of reinforcing or improving existing power lines and utility poles versus the installation of underground electric distribution lines;
the utilization of demand response, distributed generation, energy storage, and microgrid technologies;
the costs to ratepayers, taxpayers, and municipalities associated with each of the commission's recommendations, if implemented;
methods for the prevention of electric public utility (utility) transmission and distribution line damage caused by fallen trees and excessive winds;
the effect of municipal tree maintenance plans and utility vegetation management programs upon utility infrastructure reliability and recommendations for improving plans and programs to improve reliability;
problems, including the location of substations in flood plains or low lying areas, associated with vulnerabilities to utility infrastructure;
the utilization of technology to better communicate electric service outages from customers experiencing an outage to the appropriate utility; and
the feasibility of implementing new technologies to improve utility service reliability and alternative methods for the transmission and distribution of electricity.
The commission is to meet monthly and is to hold at least three public hearings, one each in the northern, central, and southern parts of the State, for the purpose of taking testimony regarding matters before the commission.

The bill now goes to the governor.