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JCP&L Blasted By Residents, Officials at Hearing

Poor communication, infrastructure and equipment problems after storm among primary complaints to utility company president, BPU.

If there was one thing the state Board of Public Utilities, JCP&L's president Don Lynch, officials and the public agreed upon Monday night, it was the severity of the storm named Sandy that howled through the state on Oct. 29, not only lashing the shore but bringing power outages that lasted two weeks or more to parts of central and northern New Jersey.

But nearly all of the dozens of officials and residents from the inland counties of Somerset, Morris, Passaic and Sussex who spoke at a public input meeting held by the BPU in Basking Ridge, refused to let Jersey Central Power & Light off the hook anyway.

"For us, in Bernards Township, for the first seven days after the storm, virtually nothing happened," said township Deputy Mayor Carolyn Gaziano, one of dozens of speakers during a meeting that lasted more than three-and-a-half hours.

At that time, all major roads were blocked, schools and public buildings were among those wide swaths of the town still without power and some neighborhoods were on roads that were blocked to the extent that emergency vehicles couldn't get through, Gaziano and other township officials said.

"If someone had a heart attack or fire, there was no way to get in," Bernards Mayor Mary Pavlini said. "Going forward, we can't have situations like that again."

The state Board of Public Utilities had scheduled Monday's meeting, which began at 4 p.m. at the William Annin Middle School, as the first regional meeting in New Jersey with the intent of collecting public input on JCP&L's preparedness and response before, during and after the storm.

"The purpose of these hearings is to solicit public input," BPU president Robert Hanna said. All comments made Monday night will become part of the official record at the BPU, which is charged with regulating utilities that hold franchises in different areas of the state, he said.

Hanna also began the meeting by saying public comments concerning steps to improve JCP&L's infrastructure also would be accepted. He said other meetings are scheduled, including one on Dec. 18 in Hopatcong.

The BPU president started the meeting by saying that 2.7 million customers in New Jersey were left powerless by the storm and 17,000 out-of-state workers responded to assist. By Nov. 4, approximately 60 percent of statewide customers without power had been restored, and by nine days after the storm, that number had risen to 90 percent of JCP&L customers in New Jersey, Hanna said.

Even so, Hanna said in his view, the power company's communications with affected communities and customers "still need great, great improvement."

Among the areas that JCP&L might make improvements on in the future is prioritizing what road closures to address, partially by working more closely with county OEMs, reinstalling some wires underground and raising substations that flooded above ground, Lynch suggested.

But he added he is proud of the power company's record of bringing 1.3 million customers statewide back on line within 13 days.

Other speakers were not so complimentary.

Children reported stepping over wires to get on school buses

Ten days after the storm, David Tourville said he had watched a scene he couldn't believe was happening in America: Chester students stepping over downed wires to get onto a school bus. "We had called JCP&L about those wires," he added.

Tourville called upon the BPU to require JCP&L to "answer for all the things they didn't do." He noted that in Connecticut last year, rebates had been issued to disatisfied power company customers.

N.J. Republican Assemblyman Scott Rumana, also former mayor of Wayne in Passaic County, said area customers of Public Service Electric Gas, the state's other main electric utility, "are always up and running sooner, and substantially sooner in most cases, than JCP&L customers." He called for "greater competition" that would allow JCP&L customers to potentially join PSEG's nearby territory.

Ron Bassani, of Wantage Township in Sussex County, said JCP&L customers in that area would like to consider joining the nearby Sussex Rural Electric Cooperative, which he said did an "excellent job" of restoring power after both the Irene and Sandy storms.

Hanna noted switching to a different power company would involve disenfranchising the current utility, which owns the power lines, and compensating that company for those lines and equipment.

But Lynn Donaldson, of Basking Ridge, said JCP&L should be penalized for its performance, which she said included emails and phone calls to residents telling them their power had been restored when it wasn't; better planning for a storm that was known to be coming to the area and power lines left lying on major thoroughfares.

"If you can't provide the service to the customers, then let someone in who can," Donaldson said to Lynch.

Warren Township Mayor Carolann Garafola called for a forensic analysis of JCP&L's books to see what the company has spent on infrastructure and equipment, particularly in comparison to its parent company, FirstEnergy, in Ohio. Other speakers said crew workers from out of state had noted JCP&L's equipment and infrastructure in the area were antiquated.

Garafola said Warren Township was the last area to receive power in each of the last three storms, and the information received from the power company was often "totally inaccurate."

Like other speakers, she said the power company had not followed local input for setting priorities in restoring power to facilities. "Our schools were the last to come up," she said.

Somerset County Freeholder Mark Caliguire said JCP&L had asked for a prioritization of county roads to be reopened. He said he had named five roads, and 10 days later, three of those roads still were not open.

Bernards Township Committee Member Scott Spitzer also said the power company hadn't moved to remove, or authorize the removal, of wires that would have prevented emergency vehicles from reaching certain neighborhoods behind roads blocked by trees and/or wires. "We had situations where people's lives were at risk because that wasn't prioritized," he said.

Communication, both with customers and also with repair crews deployed in the area, was a key component of the complaints against the power company.

Despite recommendations for better communications after last year's storms, Montville Township Committee Member Scott Gallopo said he did not see a noticeable improvement since Tropical Storm Irene. Information posted on JCP&L's website was "inaccurate and incomplete," he said, and salt was added to wounds when people were told they had returned power when they didn't.

Republican State Assemblyman Jon Bramnick said he thought the power company's communications had been poor during Sandy. He said residents don't want to hear broad discussions about the severity of the storm. "They want to know where the trucks are."

Other speakers, including Morris Township Mayor Peter Mancuso, said crews had been "hanging around" waiting for orders on what to do next. He said the township has a staging area where crews remained for "hours and hours."

"There's only one utility that doesn't have a mobile dispatching system, and that's JCP&L," Wayne Councilwoman Lonni Ryan said.

Morristown Councilwoman Alison Deeb, of that town's fourth ward, said half of her district was without power for 11 days. She said JCP&L's field managers are trying to handle too many towns—she claimed the person assigned to her territory was trying to juggle 55 towns.

Deeb, too, said the power company's communications are not where they should be for 2012.

Lynch responded to such criticisms by saying that JCP&L is in the process of installing mobile communication units, and the installation should be completed next year, possibly by summer.

But he also added the company prefers to lean toward guaranteeing crew safety by requiring them to call in to dispatchers for live information on where it's safe to work on wires.

Other discussions at the meeting included the possibility of training certain electricians or personnel on township department of public works or offices of emergency response to authorize wires to be moved in an emergency situation.

Others looked ahead to what will happen during future storms.

Niha Limaye, of Bridgewater, said such storms can be expected to become more common during climate changes. She said JCP&L should be doing its own post-morten of its response during Sandy. "We want to understand what went wrong, and what's going to change, and what we can do to help you," she said.

She said more than 600 people have joined a local Facebook page, "JCP&L Needs to Answer."

"I don't expect this to be going on in a year or two," Basking Ridge resident Tony Otero said. He said the company needs to modernize the local power infrastructure.

However, Ami Morita, attorney with the state's Division of Rate Council, urged officials to "tread carefully" before making expensive improvements to the system she said would be passed on as rate hikes. "Let's not victimize rate payers a second time," she said.

Morita said JCP&L's rates are supposed to include funding for responses to storms, and she will look more carefully into that area.

Among those with a positive response for the power company was Lance Berkheimer, who said he lives in Basking Ridge and has a business in Stirling. He said his power was out for four days at home, and eight days at his business. However, he said JCP&L responded quickly when he had a problem with his business. "I think JCP&L did a good job," he said.

Other comments can be filed via email at board.secretary@bpu.state.nj.us, referring to docket no. E012111050, or by mail to Board of Public Utilities, 44 S. Clinton Ave., P.O. box 350, Trenton, 08625, according to representatives from the BPU who were at the meeting.

Liberty December 14, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Ok, it may be corny, but when I was lighting candles every night, piling on the blankets, and using a bucket of water to flush.....I thought of 19th century pioneers whose entire lives were much worse, OR, the present-day hardships of our own servicemen and women in s**tholes in the Middle East. Merry Christmas to all!
Larry Pearce December 14, 2012 at 02:39 PM
BRER....you have no problem in other blogs that intersections need to be wider or more cameras needed.....those are wants....not needs. yes the cost to put wires underground would be high....but the savings down the road would be great!
Larry Pearce December 14, 2012 at 03:30 PM
I worked in constuction all my life....put in utility lines underground....the cheepest is power..... hey they don't have to go underground tomorow....but by 2022? How many motor vehicles have taken utility poles out? A town can put islands in with curb & plants, buy freespace, put in ball fields, restore historic property, traffic lights, and on and on......underground would be safer and more reliable.....as for the coast this storm has been on the books for decades! Your goverment knew about it for at least 30 years of the storm surge...just as they knew the levees would not hold Katrina. Is Bound Brook flooding because of global warming? Or the fact that up on the high ground buildings keep going up & driveway & parking lots paved, new roofs, and the water runs downhill instead of perking?
Larry Pearce December 14, 2012 at 03:35 PM
Higher rates.......they want them now! Think of what they would save....no bucket trucks, linemen, toxic telephone poles, tree men etc....please it would not be that difficult.
Bob December 15, 2012 at 06:07 AM
BS, BEFORE the storm it took JCPL three months- 3 months ! To fix the broken street lights in our neighborhood. The township pays a fixed bill for the electricity these lights where they work or not ( there's no meter to measure). JCPL pocketed the money without providing service. Someone needs to audit these crooks
Bob December 15, 2012 at 06:12 AM
BTW, I don't recall seeing JCPL doing any routine maintenance work like trimming trees BEFORE the storm. Do you? How much are they actually spending on maintenance and planning ?
Liberty December 15, 2012 at 06:25 AM
Actually, approximately a month before the storm JCP&L left notices on our street that they would be coming through and trimming branches and possibly even removing some trees that were in danger of coming down--near power lines. Even though they wouldn't do stump removal, they would've put a chemical on the stump to make it disintegrate faster. They worked the neighborhood for 3 days. Don't know what it cost...
Bob December 15, 2012 at 06:25 AM
Even in India they don't loose power for more than a few days - because if they do, they go banging on the utility minister's door and threaten to lynch him if the sh** isn't fixed. We're much more civilized here ... where does Anthony Alexander live again?
Bob December 15, 2012 at 06:30 AM
Here's a thought: How 'bout we kick JCPL out without a penny ( since they've been stealing from us for years ) and hold an auction for the franchise. Plus, make the franchise only good for 5 yr periods. Force the companies to compete for our business.
chatham98 December 15, 2012 at 02:09 PM
Bitch, bitch, bitch - what a bunch of whiners. Embarrassing to read the junk you people bitch about. A few days, or a week or so, without power as the result of a 100 year storm and you think the world is ending. Get a grip! Find something important to bitch about.
Joseph Torres December 15, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Maybe JCP&L should aspire to be the best utility system in the world that might help reduce outages, I can’t help but think that the main concern here, evidenced by the lack of maintenance is really that of sending profits back to Akron Ohio, granted this storm was unprecedented, but that doesn’t negate the prior outages we have experiences and the lack of reliability that now exist in the system, don’t we all just shudder a little when out lights flicker because our new experience makes us wonder just how many days will we be out of service this time? I realize situations like a storm are fluid however when your business is such that weather is a factor you would think you would be a little more prepared in areas that you can control ,like communicating with your customers. I hope that someone at the BPU and JCP&L takes you neighborhood coordinator idea seriously That would save days if not hours of unproductive time.
roger freiday December 15, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Whiners oh ? What the hell do YOU know about it ? Chatham98, oh yeah, Chatham is a HIGH OUTAGE town right ? Try it out here where we have it constantly, from 25 seconds to 4 hours, to 4, 6, 8, 13 days ! and often NO weather problems, just anitquated lines and lack of local repair crews. If JCPL had a GOOD track record, THEN it might be ''bitching'' but they DO NOT, HAVE NOT and I expect will continue to NOT. Maybe you get a raise from First Energy when you report in Monday, for supporting the un-supportable.!
Okie dokiee December 16, 2012 at 02:04 PM
Boo hoo! I lost power and can't watch reruns of Sex and the City. Do most of you live in a hole? We were ALL warned about the storm, we were ALL warned about the lengthy power outages to come. So ALL of us should of been ready for it. If you decided to not prepare I have NO sympathy for you....none.
Corthree January 07, 2013 at 04:57 AM
JCP&L is the worst!! all they had to do, was have a couple of crews going around and see what blade switches they could pull closer to damaged lines... They would have had thousands of consumers back on-line within a few days. The only crew I saw for 10 days just drove right by and thats all was wrong with our entire street. A simple blade switch was down. Just plain unacceptable.
chatham98 January 07, 2013 at 01:10 PM
You whiners scare me. You have no concept of reality. You believe the world should be perfect - by your definition - and have no tolerance for variance. Very selfish. This sort of me - me attitude is exactly what's going wrong in this country and destroying it!
Corthree January 07, 2013 at 03:09 PM
chatham98 by your definition we should just all sit back and do nothing, Nothing is wrong with anything. LOL WOW what world do you live in??
chatham98 January 07, 2013 at 04:39 PM
Corthree -------- I try to live in the real world - not some artificial reality created by the media and the entertainment industry. My point is, that the whiners are focused on someone doing something for them. Come on. The reality is that the power is back on and it wasn't as bad as it could have been. IF people had trimmed their trees properly, taken out the sick trees, and anticipated the danger of falling trees, things could have been even better. But no, they want to bitch about how someone else was responsible for their poor planning and foresight. Things could have been smoother with the power company, but you know - people could have done a better job of anticipating too. I just think all this bitching about the power company is a adolescent way of trying to make the future better. Focus on what really matters and take some responsibility for what happens - because - you and all your neighbors have a greater responsibility for the power being out so long than the power company.
Cletus January 07, 2013 at 05:26 PM
None? None at all? Dang, I was counting on at least a smidgen from you. How do I go on?
Cletus January 07, 2013 at 05:34 PM
S.O.T.T., do you have a mirror on your screen? Reality Checker's comment was quite calm, brief and reasonable, whereas yours was the angry tirade that you accuse R.C. of. In short, you've become that which you claim to be "sick of".
roger freiday January 08, 2013 at 12:54 PM
Too bad they closed Hagedorn sanitorium, Chatham 98 could use a good ''electro-shock'' therapy, EXCEPT that if it's JCPL it might be an OUTAGE. It was'nt AS BAD ?? THIRTEEN DAYS ? on top of 4, 6 and 8 days in four years ? Well Mr. JCPL employee, I have TWO generators, a wood furnace, and numerous emergency lights, and you know why? Because I AM PREPARED, so do not give me that ''individual responsibilty'' stuff. Do you really expect the public to be trimming trees around hot power lines, or on a right of way ? Again, if JCPL had a good track record and we had a lengthy outage from a big storm it would be less of a crisis. THEY DO NOT have ANY track record except of bumbling, expensive, inefficient, antiquated ''service''. We pay THREE times the KW /hr rates of most of the country and get to spend fortunes on generators and associated equipment to compensate for this pack of fools who use the locals as a cash cow for the parent company. I would like to bring up the ''Moreland Commission'' in New York, who recommend REVOKING L.I.P.A's franchise - THAT is what we need here, As bad as ALL Nj power companies may be, it is ALWAYS JCPL with the MOST outages and LONGEST restoration times ! It's really bad when, every time there is snow sleet or ice in the forecast, I HAVE TO fire up the wood stove, and start the generators KNOWING what is coming. Even now, we still have poles with new sections GRAFTED onto the broken ones, same for crossbars at the top!
chatham98 January 08, 2013 at 03:57 PM
Let's see, 30 days out of 1460 is 2% down time. That's more reliable than most things and, that includes a 100 year storm. I can't grasp the reason for the incessant bitching. If you looked closely you would no doubt find that trees were a major reason for the 2% outage. Don't use some lame excuse about cutting around live wires - you hire that done or get JCP&L to do the work - or - live with the 2%. Big deal!
The Stig January 08, 2013 at 05:47 PM
You have to be joking. 98%, or ten full days ever year without electricity is acceptable? Utilities should be available between 99.9 and 99.99% of the time. That would be a total of 1 to 8 hrs per year, and that would be factoring in the "100 Year Storm". Anything less is unacceptable.
chatham98 January 08, 2013 at 09:47 PM
My point was - with the consumers trees falling all over the lines 2% isn't bad. Get with a trimming and tree care program and 99.99% may be achievable. Trees are not the power company's problem entirely you know. I just cannot believe so many people think that JCP&L or any power company can be responsible for all the power outages. It is just wrong thinking! It is convenient thinking - but dead wrong! A significant burden belongs to the home and land owners to protect the wires from falling trees, etc.
roger freiday January 09, 2013 at 01:23 AM
Are you daft 98 ? WHERE else in the country does anyone have to deal with this crap? NOBODY is as lame as JCPL ! Let me say it again so it can SINK IN - IF they had a GOOD track record and IF there was a BIG STORM then it might be acceptable to expect lengthy delays. THEY DO NOT have any such ''good' record, only one of high rates, customer be damned, send the money to Ohio (or wherever the bastards reside) and cut repair crews to the bone. ALL the while we are paying Cadillac prices for YUGO service. I ain't making it up, 40+ years of s--t service and lies and miserable response time. If you ''98'' are not an employee or married to one of JCPL's slaves, I cannot imagine what drives your ''logic''. THEY SUCK ! Good enough ?
Edward P. Campbell January 09, 2013 at 02:07 AM
Mr. 98 – Have you traveled in PSE&G’s area? Did you see the extra high poles they’ve been installing to mitigate tree problems? How about all the new sub-stations they are building, right along with all the new transmission lines, and let us not forget their commitment to solar power and all the solar panels they have put up! What has JCP&L up-dated lately? President and Chief Executive Officer Anthony J. Alexander, office? Yea, I thought so! PS. Why is no one up in arms over PSE&G? Could it be this was the first power failure I've ever encountered as a PSE&G customer over the last 18 year? How's that for Up-Time?
Cletus January 09, 2013 at 02:08 AM
It's one thing to wear rose colored glasses, quite another to angrily demand that everyone else put them on.
chatham98 January 09, 2013 at 02:23 PM
I hate to disappoint those of you who think I work for or have friends at JCP&L. I don't think I even know anyone who works for JCP&L. I'm just appalled that so many people seemed to have lost perspective and remain all emotional about the loss of power. I can't imagine the reaction to a serious situation. Uncontrollable panic comes to mind. You read the entire blog and it reads like a bunch of 10 year old kids talking. Problem solvers or adults (excuse me - rational adults) it does not sound like. I think the folks have the capacity for a better, more mature reaction that what I have seen. I'm just looking for it - somewhere out there.
roger freiday January 09, 2013 at 04:25 PM
ah ha haaaa mr .98 we sure don't get a rational reaction form YOUR end. Me, I do not LIKE geting SCREWED all the while paying the (damn near) HIGHEST KW/Hr rates in the WHOLE COUNTRY. I like to think one should get your money's worth. This is especially true of neighborhoods like mine, with many elderly and infrim retirees who are dependant on being WARM and in some cases having access to life sustaining medically required machines/ equipment. Other than maybe L.I.P.A., it would be difficult to find another bastion of ineptitude and ''give a damn'' like JCPL has shown us over the decades.
Edward P. Campbell January 09, 2013 at 05:03 PM
He Doesn’t Get It! We pay 2 to 3 times what other people pay in the United States for power. He needs to understand if he gets a $300.00 electric bill here, in Kentucky it would be $100.00. He needs to understand too, those of us living in the more remote areas of NJ are told we will not have our power restored until everyone else’s is back on, but we still pay the very same rate as the first class citizens who get their power back first. He seriously needs to look at the improvements made by PSE&G, and he needs to accept the fact that in the last 18 years as a PSE&G customer, I’ve never had a power failure and I live in a remote area. He needs to understand in 99.999999% of the rest of the country, people go decades without power failures of the types and duration JCP&L customers have experienced lately. Finally, he really needs to get a grip on the fact that JCP&L's, commitment to their customers is appalling, and their infrastructure is not only way out of date, but it is also very poorly designed, poorly implemented, and poorly documented, not to mention the fact it is poorly maintained, and grossly mismanaged! Yes Virginia, in the year 2012, in the heart of New Jersey, one can expect to have power 24*7*365.
Corthree January 09, 2013 at 08:44 PM
I agree with you. I trimmed my trees and so did my neighbors. we didn't have any lines down on our street. JCP&L came out the day after the storm and pulled our blade switch at the main phase so they could get the main phase back up. They didn't come back for 10 days to simply push our blade switch back up. That switch could have been pulled closer to the lines that were down over 2 miles up another road! That to me is unacceptable!

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