HUNTERDON COUNTY, NJ - Following their scrutiny of utility company Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) at their August 2020 meetings, held in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias and the power outages that ensued, the Hunterdon County Board of Chosen Freeholders approved a resolution stating its opposition to JCP&L’s petition to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) for approval of a rate increase to customers.

The stated increase proposed by JCP&L – through a petition submitted to the New Jersey BPU for an electric service rate increase and other tariff charges – would cost ratepayers $185.3 million, and can range to as high as an 8.9 percent increase on monthly bills, according to language contained in the county resolution approved Sept. 15. Hunterdon County Administrator Kevin Davis noted that there are various “projected percentage monthly rate increases” submitted to the NJBPU.

The Board of Chosen Freeholders were provided notice of JCP&L’s petition Aug. 27, at a time when power to most JCP&L customers had barely been restored for a full week following the Aug. 4 storm.

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The freeholders’ resolution makes the county officials’ intention to go on record known with an official comment in opposition to JCP&L’s petition for rate increases. Copies of the resolution were directed to be transmitted to the BPU Board Secretary and the New Jersey Office
of Administrative Law (OAL) for consideration as official comment.

The resolution unanimously approved noted JCP&L’s issues in the wake of Isaias and power outages in August, and actions that the freeholders lambasted during the course of updates at board meetings.

“Hunterdon County residents served by JCP&L have had a long history of power failures, slow response for restoration by the utility and lack of proper communication about outages,” the resolution said. “The most recent power failures in the JCP&L system due to Tropical Storm Isaias resulted in the loss of food stores and medicines by many affected residents in the JCP&L service area, and the request by the Hunterdon County Board of Freeholders, other elected bodies throughout the state and residents for JCP&L to reimburse customers for the cost of their losses, as Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) is doing for their customers, has been rejected by JCP&L.”

Deputy Freeholder Director Sue Soloway made the motion for the board to approve this resolution, stating JCP&L “has a history of power failures, low-response restoration and lack of proper communications about their outages.”

During the Freeholders’ meeting, Davis addressed county officials before their vote.

“The rate increase was submitted way back, in February or March, and pre-pandemic shutdowns, and the deadline for submitting comments on this proposal for a rate increase is Sept. 30,” he said. “If the county wants to go on the record with regard to the rate increase, this would be the time to do it. My recommendation is that the freeholder board go on record with opposing this rate increase, and in particular asking the BPU to require JCP&L provide reimbursements to ratepayers for losses sustained as long-term power outages continued, including lost food and medications.”

Davis noted that PSE&G voluntarily agreed to this measure in mid-August after State Sen. Kip Bateman (R-Somerset) introduced legislation requiring power companies “to reimburse residential customers for the cost of food and prescription medicine spoiled or compromised as a result of sustained electric service outages (S-2836).”

“If I were advising JCP&L I would tell them they ought to be doing the same voluntarily, but failing that, the BPU can order them to do it and our resolution calls for that to occur,” Davis said.

Freeholder John Lanza said he intended to write to the State Senate’s Law and Public Safety Committee about the legislation Bateman sponsored.

“Our residents in Hunterdon County have to put up with power outages far too often and for far too long, and the loss of food and medicine, it is unjustified,” he said. “It is time for those who have authority in Trenton to do something.”