BPU raps JCP&L for “litany of failures” related to Morristown manhole explosions


An investigation of Morristown’s exploding manholes has uncovered an “alarming litany of failures” by Jersey Central Power & Light to perform preventive maintenance, Bob Hanna, president of the state Board of Public Utilities, said Friday.

An expert appointed by the BPU has recommended 25 steps for JCP&L to improve Morristown’s underground electrical system, which has been plagued by fires and explosions for years. A Morris Township mother of two sustained burns on her arm last summer when a manhole exploded near her car at the intersection of South and James streets.

Among the steps urged by Special Reliability Master Patrick Downes is replacement of the last two oil switches in the network. The failure of such a switch was blamed for the incident that injured the woman.

fire under south street
A smoky electrical fire beneath a South Street sidewalk, June 2011. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

JCP&L President Don Lynch described the 40-page technical report as a “thorough analysis.” A spokesman said the utility aims to implement most of the recommendations — a task begun last December– by year’s end.

“We’ve accepted all of the recommendations and the report,” said JCP&L spokesman Ron Morano. “We take this very seriously and are committed to completing all of the recommendations and making improvements.”

Yet he said the investigator found the underground system “meets design, construction and reliability standards for U.S. electrical utilities.”

Maintenance failures concerned Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, who said he appreciates maintenance because of his job overseeing operations at Newark’s Prudential Center.

“It is crucial to have preventive maintenance,” said the Mayor said, who wants to know whether the problems stem from a lack of personnel or operational failures by JCP&L.


While expressing thanks to Gov. Christie, Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-25th Dist) and Assemblyman Anthony M Bucco (R-25th Dist.) and the BPU for keeping pressure on JCP&L, the Mayor voiced dismay that there is no explanation for the massive explosion at the Morristown & Township Library nearly two years ago. Repairs to the building finally are nearing completion.

The library incident was not officially part of the investigation by Patrick Downes, a former vice president at Public Service Electric & Gas who was hired in October for the Morristown assignment.

“I’m going to ask the BPU to get involved with that issue, too,” said the Mayor, who noted that insurance companies sealed the findings of their probe of a 1994 explosion at the library. “The public has a right to know,” he said.

The report released Friday criticized JCP&L for not following its own maintenance procedures, for not prioritizing corrective measures and for poor record-keeping of those actions.

It also faulted the utility’s communications with local officials, and called for monthly meetings. And it recommended an updated training program with the Morristown fire department.

Additionally, the report echoed a suggestion by Mayor Dougherty to test special tethered manhole covers that vent gases to minimize or prevent explosions. A trial project involving 12 covers will be launched, according to the report.

“While I am pleased that JCP&L has already implemented some of the expert’s recommendations, more needs to be done,” said Bob Hanna, a former federal prosecutor who replace Lee Solomon as BPU president last November.

“As a first step, Board staff has been directed to develop specific, verifiable protocols for JCP&L to adopt, including a rigorous preventative maintenance schedule and effective corrective maintenance plan.  We will closely monitor JCP&L’s compliance and, if necessary, take additional enforcement action,” the BPU president said in statement.

The BPU acknowledged that JCP&L is taking action on these recommendations:

  • Replacing electro-mechanical relays with micro-processor relays on one circuit.
  • Installing animal guards on the 12 kV Network distribution breakers.
  • Reconnecting lightning arrestors on all Network circuits.
  • Identifying primary cables in manholes that were not wrapped with fire retardant arc proofing tape and applying said protection.
  • Replacement of the two remaining oil switches with vacuum type devices.
  • Initiating a preventative maintenance program for network transformers as described in the report.
  • Reviewing all transformer vaults in the network against FE/JCP&L standards for ventilation to determine confirmation with the standards or actions to conform if necessary.









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  1. Dick Tighe is right on the money, I agree with everything he just said. Still, it remains unclear when the next unsolved library explosion is going to happen!

  2. This shows shows how de-regulating has ruined our power grid infrastructure. When JCP&L was a regulated utility, they were incented to build a high quality, redundant, reliable power system. The more they invested; the more they could earn. Regulated power utilities were permitted to earn an adequate rate of return on anything they invested in the power system. Therefore, they built in quality and redundancies to ensure top service and the best rate of return.

    Once they were de-regulated, and privatized, the incentive became cutting costs, eliminating redundancies and paying down the massive debt they acquired in privatizing. Due to this de-regulation, we a moving toward a power grid that’s like a banana republic; unreliable and cheap. Planning Boards are indunated with applications for back up power generators.

    Less regulation, in this instance, hurts our economy, diminishes public safety and only earns money for the Goldman Sachs types on Wall Street.