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Assembly Bill Would Create Post-Sandy Task Force [AUDIO]

Hoping to minimize the impact of severe weather on public utilities and shorten power outages for residents, a state legislator will introduce a bill today to create a commission tasked with finding better ways deliver energy to consumers.

Allison Joyce, Getty Images

Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo’s bill is derived from concerns raised during and after Superstorm Sandy.

“Many consumers lost power because of downed power lines caused by high winds or trees falling on power lines, as well as extensive flooding of substations in low-lying areas,” said DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex), vice-chairman of the Assembly Telecommunications Committee. “More than two million homes and businesses lost power during the storm. Some are still without power because of the extent of infrastructure damage in their communities. We can’t prevent another storm from coming, but we can try to lessen the impact by proactively improving our energy system.”

Sixty-five percent of New Jersey utility costumers lost power due to the storm, 2.6 million homes and businesses, according to a media report. Depending on their location, degree of physical damage and utility company, some residents had to wait weeks before their power was restored. Many are still without power. According to a recent media report, more than 30,000 people remain without power in New Jersey and New York. Many of those people are also without heat.

The bill would establish a 20-member commission made up of state and local government representatives and private citizens. DeAngelo said the purpose of the commission would be to study and provide findings and recommendations about the following:

  • recommendations for improving the state’s electric utility infrastructure
  • ways to reinforce or improve existing power lines and utility poles versus the installation of underground electric distribution lines
  • the feasibility of installing all, or majority of, electric distribution lines in the state underground
  • the costs to ratepayers, taxpayers, and municipalities associated with moving above-ground electric distribution lines underground
  • methods for the prevention of electric transmission and distribution line damage caused by fallen trees and excessive winds
  • the effect of municipal tree maintenance plans and electric public utility vegetation management programs upon electric utility infrastructure reliability and recommendations for improving such plans and programs to improve reliability
  • problems, including the location of substations in flood plains or low lying areas, associated with vulnerabilities to electric utility infrastructure
  • the utilization of technology to better communicate electric service outages from customers experiencing an outage to the appropriate electric utility
  • feasibility of implementing technologies to improve electric utility service reliability and alternative methods for the transmission and distribution of electricity
  • recommendations for legislation to facilitate improvements to electric utility transmission and distribution reliability, including installing underground electric distribution lines and utilizing new technologies to improve reliability.

Members of the commission, who would serve without compensation, would include:

  • Board of Public Utilities president, or designee – who would serve as Chairman of the commission
  • Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, or designee
  • New Jersey Ratepayer Advocate, or designee
  • Two members of General Assembly – one from each political party
  • Two members of State Senate – one from each political party
  • Two public members appointed by the Assembly Speaker
  • Two public members appointed by the Senate President
  • Three representatives of the New Jersey Utilities Association and two mayors each recommended the League of Municipalities and the Conference of Mayors as appointed by the Governor.

The commission would be under the jurisdiction of and staffed by the Board of Public Utilities with all appointments made within 30 days of the bill’s effective date. The commission would have to have its first organization meeting within 30 days after all appointments are made. The commission would have to meet monthly and hold at least three public hearings (one each in the northern, central and southern portion of the state) to take testimony regarding the issues before it. Its final report must be presented to Legislature and Executive Branch one year after the initial organization meeting.

“This storm caused severe hardships for our state. 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,” said DeAngelo. “The expense of the damage is great and the heartache even greater. The better prepared we are for the next storm, hopefully the better the outcome will be.”

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