Jersey Central Power & Light Company Official Promises Improved Communications, Swifter Response in Summit
Wednesday, October 17, 2012 • 6:55am
SUMMIT, NJ—Faster communications with city officials, swifter notification and response to outages and better upgrading of equipment in the city service area were promised by Stan Prater, regional director of Jersey Central Power & Light Co., at Tuesday’s meeting of the Summit Common Council.
Prater was appearing at the invitation of the council in response to resident complaints of widespread outages during Hurricane Irene and last year’s October snowstorm.
He said the utility company now blasts e-mails updating the status of its system during emergencies to residents and officials who sign up for that service. It also has upgraded its “non-911 form” so that notifications of multiple outages can be faxed into JCP&L’s call center.
The utility official added JCP&L’s “24-7” website lists outages by county, locations where water and ice will be available in the event of outages and ETR—estimated time of restoration—of service listed by county.
Prater noted his firm eventually hopes to offer Smart Phone updates via text message to customers who sign up for that service.
JCP&L, according to the official, will explore an “alternate feed” telephone system at Overlook Hospital in the event telephone lines are down elsewhere in the city. He also said power lines at the Briant Park and Traynor substations in the city have been replaced, trees are being trimmed near power lines at a number of locations, transmission lines are being upgraded, an additional regional manager will be appointed in northern New Jersey to supplement Prater and the utility has become more involved in community activities such as the Summit Fourth of July celebration.
Responding to a question by Councilwoman Nuris Portuondo, whose residence was among the last restored during Hurricane Irene, Prater said the first priority in a major outage such as that of the summer of 2011 was restoration of power to 90-foot transmission towers because they serve the majority of customers.
He added the next in restoration priority are hospitals, followed by 9-1-1 centers and emergency management facilities followed by nursing homes, areas with the largest amount of affected customers and then distribution centers-substations to the neighborhoods.
The storms of 2011, according to Prater, were the largest outage in the history of JCP&L, with 300,000 outages during the hurricane and 300,000 outages during the snowstorm.
Although he events of this type are not expected any time in the future, the company will keep a closer watch on weather conditions, bring in additional contractors and help from its 10 sister companies and add computers to its line trucks to better locate and deal with outages and communicating response.
Although complimenting the electric company for “virtually rebuilding the grid in about a week,” council public safety chair, Patrick Hurley, wanted to know why Public Service Electric & Gas Company seemed to have a more localized response to outages while JCP&L had a more centralized command structure, thus hindering swifter response.
Prater explained the first priority of utility crews is to make an area safe—thus one crew may have to de-energize lines in an area and leave to then wait until a tree-clearing crew comes in to clear areas around lines and get them operational again.
He added supervisors on the street can make tactical decisions but they have to follow certain procedures.
The JCP&L official also promised to look into lines in Summit that appear to have been down since the 2011 storms, see if they belong to the utility and reach out to City Administrator Chris Cotter and the department of public works to advise them of progress in correcting the situation.
As for preventive maintenance, Prater said poles are inspected using thermography to detect “hot spots” in lines that signal potential faults. There also are visual inspections, inspections of wood poles and tree trimming. In addition, there are monthly, annual and biennial inspections of the three substations that serve Summit.
He noted, however, equipment that is not functioning properly will be replaced, but equipment that merely is older will not be replaced if it is working correctly.
The utility, according to Prater, has invested $200 million in upgrading transmission lines and substations.
He said much of the problems in the area of Tanglewood Drive, where residents complained Tuesday that frequent outages still occur, was due to the need for tree trimming and this was being done.
Responding to a call from resident Nathan Esposito for “alternate feeds,” with one substation picking up the load from another substation that goes down, the JCP&L spokesman said shifts are difficult, but they can be made more easily in the fall than in the summer.
As for burying wires underground, he said JCP&L is an overhead wire utility, that burying of wires is extremely expensive, it involves a lengthy regulatory approval process and, once lines are buried, it is much more difficult to find faults in them than in overhead wires.
Speaking about communication, Prater said the first call residents make to report an outage should be to the utility so it can respond. This should be done before calling the police or elected officials.
Responding to resident complaints that communication with city officials was difficult during the 2011 outages, Cotter said Summit has the Code Red system through which residents can register their telephone numbers and email addresses so the city can notify them of outages and progress toward restoration.
In addition, during catastrophes the city now can use Facebook, Twitter and the police department’s Nixle system for notifications.
The utility’s email system, Prater pointed out, is used principally for large and extended outages, For smaller outages, such as the one caused this week by an automobile accident on River Road, he said residents should contact the utility’s call center.
Mayor Ellen Dickson announced the complete report on JCP&L’s response to the 2011 storms is on the state Board of Public Utility’s site.
“I do believe Jersey Central Power & Light has not invested heavily enough in New Jersey,” Dickson said.
In official action, the council awarded the $630,000 bid on city-owned property at 2 Walnut Street to American Realty Company.
Max Spann, Jr., hired by the city to conduct the sale, said the location of the property near the Summit train station was good, but its lack of sufficient parking and extensive capital outlay required to upgrade the building limited the sale price.
Councilman Dave Bomgaars, who chairs the council finance committee, said the council only has committed to spending the auction fees and the additional funds allocated out of $1.2 million originally budgeted for the sale would go toward upgrading of the Summit Community Center to accommodate youth programs currently housed at 2 Walnut Street.
The council also approved a three-way agreement with Merck & Co. and Union County for installation of a mid-block crosswalk with traffic and pedestrian signals in front of the Merck property on Broad Street that is slated to become the company’s global headquarters in 2014 or 2015.
City Solicitor Thomas Scrivo explained a clause in the agreement pertaining to liability would only go into effect if the signal fails to operate due to lack of maintenance and the city would be “first in line” for liability should that happen.
The governing body also authorized the auction of a chance to become “Youth Firefighter for a Day” at this Saturday’s Red Engine Social Fundraiser to raise money for a new home for the city’s antique fire engine.