Morris Township officials to state: Make JCP&L reimburse customers, and improve infrastructure, communications after Isaias

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Tropical Storm Isaias spent less than two hours in Morris Township… but left thousands of residents without power for days.

At one point, 63 percent of the municipality lacked electricity. Jersey Central Power & Light must do better, according to the Township’s governing body, which on Thursday asked state officials to mandate utility investments in smart technology, better communication about restoration times, and reimbursement to residents for perishables that spoiled during outages.

Joining critics from across the state, the Township Committee blasted JCP&L for insufficient preparation and manpower and a “haphazard” response to the Aug. 4, 2020, storm. The local officials called for a more vigorous tree-pruning program and the relocation of power lines from overhead to underground, among other things.

“We urge the BPU to identify best practices in power grid management from across the country as well as elsewhere in the world, and work towards implementing those best practices here in Morris County,” the Committee said in a letter to Joseph L. Fiordaliso, president of the state Board of Public Utilities.

The letter was copied to JCP&L President James V. Fakult and Charles E. Jones, CEO of parent company First Energy Corp.  The full text is below.

From the Morris Township Committee:

 

Joseph L. Fiordaliso
President
New Jersey Board of Public Utilities
44 S. Clinton Avenue
Trenton, NJ 08625
Dear President Fiordaliso,
We write to you with great concern as New Jersey heads into the busiest seasons of the year for damaging storms with the potential for further disruptions to our community’s power grid. In the aftermath of one of the earliest destructive tropical storms in recent memory, we urge the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to take meaningful and immediate action.
Our residents have little choice when it comes to their utility service, whether it is electrical, cable, or phone. This lack of consumer choice must not be permitted to translate into a lack of responsibility or service from their utility service providers. Individual municipalities have no authority over these utilities and so the members of the Township Committee respectfully request that the BPU provide stronger oversight to protect consumers and hold service providers accountable.
The Morris Township Committee respectfully requests the BPU to address the following:
  • Providing More Reliable Real-time Information to both Municipal Authorities and Customers: During past storms, Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) has been able to provide proper estimated times for restoration (ETR) for municipalities to share with residents or directly to customers. During Tropical Storm Isaias, this was not the case. We request better due diligence when it comes to the service providers providing more timely information to municipal authorities and improve efforts in communicating reasonable ETRs to customers.
  • Storm Preparedness: JCP&L has worked over the past year trimming back and removing at-risk trees from harming our power lines. We clearly need to do more to address the ongoing problems of persistent outages as a result of at-risk trees falling on power lines. Unfortunately, when the storm hit, JCP&L was not prepared and did not have enough manpower in place. Therefore, we request the BPU review FirstEnergy’s use of regional agreements and provide feedback on ways to improve response times, the allocation of resources, and activation before and after storms.
  • Storm Response: From the municipal perspective, JCP&L’s response was haphazard. It took days to have sufficient manpower on the scene. While we are grateful that they were able to call in workers from other states, we heard anecdotal stories that many were working off of old-fashioned paper, that many trucks sat idle for periods of times at staging areas and after jobs were complete because the ticketing system was in disarray. In this hi-tech era, JCP&L should have a technology solution that is appropriate for 2020 and not a system that is antiquated.
  • Fairness for Customers: As many of our colleagues from across the state have voiced thus far, we request that utility providers reimburse certain customers for the cost of food, medication, and other perishables for those who lost power for more than 48 hours. To many seniors on fixed incomes and those with low or moderate income, losing groceries and other perishables as a result of a loss of power for an extended time can be burdensome on their finances.
  • Investing in Critical Infrastructure: Last year, JCP&L shared with the Township Committee and our residents their efforts to improve their regional infrastructure. It is clear that further improvements are necessary including:
  • Accelerating the installation of “TripSaver” smart reset devices
  • Improving the resiliency of substations to extreme weather conditions
  • Investing in the next generation of smart utility poles and other “smart” technology
  • Improved assessment systems that can more accurately and rapidly determine key disruption locations that would allow for better estimates of restoration times
  • Installing underground service lines in critical and vulnerable areas to bring more stability to the power grid
We believe that the BPU should strongly encourage and, in some cases, require these upgrades.
While these points are a priority for the Township Committee and the residents whom we serve, they are not all-encompassing. We urge the BPU to identify best practices in power grid management from across the country as well as elsewhere in the world, and work towards implementing those best practices here in Morris County.
The Morris Township Committee stands ready to engage in the forthcoming discussions and be part of the solution. We believe that Morris Township residents deserve better and look forward to participating in the debriefings of the Tropical Storm Isaias response in the coming weeks.
Sincerely,
Mayor Cathy Wilson
Deputy Mayor Jeff Grayzel
Committeeman John Arvanites
Committeeman Mark Gyorfy
Committeeman Peter Mancuso
Cc:
Charles E. Jones, Chief Executive Officer                James V. Fakult, President
FirstEnergy Corp.                                                      JCP&L
76 South Main Street                                                 One River Center – Building 3
Akron, Ohio 44308                                                     331 Newman Springs Road
                                                                                   Red Bank, NJ 07701
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3 COMMENTS

  1. The catalyst for change was Sandy in 2012, when outages were measured in weeks, not days. The exact same things were said in 2012 and nothing has changed. I expect that the status quo is here to stay.

  2. It’s much appreciated that at least one of the local mayors is pushing the public utility to upgrade the current Infastructure – which is antiquated and unreliable.

    Running the power-lines underground is the only long term solution. Despite the exorbabnt costs – borrowing costs are near zero. And if the towns join together there is a possibility of negotiating these costs lower.

    Sadly, many in Morristown, both elected officials and the general public, don’t see what happened last week as the catalyst for appropriate change and are satisfied with the status quo…..

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