David P. Willis: NJ utilities want $12B in upgrades; AARP says it's too much

2019-03-14 | Asbury Park Press

March 14-- Mar. 14--TRENTON -- We can't afford utility bill increases, amounting to $12 billion in proposals by AARP's count as of December, an organizer said. "Not a penny more."

"Right now, many residents are struggling with the high costs of utility services," said Evelyn Liebman, AARP New Jersey's director of advocacy, outside the State House Annex in Trenton on Wednesday. "While always a pocketbook issue, we can never forget that these services are also lifeline services, meaning people depend on them for basic heath and safety."

Residential electric rates are the ninth highest in the continental United States, she said. "Fixed- and low-income consumers are particularly hard hit."

AARP was joined by Clean Water Action, Environment New Jersey, the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, the New Jersey Main Street Alliance and the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey.

Utilities, including Public Service Electric and Gas, Jersey Central Power Light and Elizabethtown Gas, have proposals before the state Board of Public Utilities to raise rates to cover its costs for infrastructure improvements and other programs, including energy efficiency measures.

Watch the video at the top of this story to learn more about JCP's request.

"The board takes seriously its mission to ensure that safe, adequate, and proper utility services are provided at reasonable rates," BPU spokesman Peter Peretzman said in a statement. "We seek and appreciate public and stakeholder input and take the impact on ratepayers into account when making decisions."

On Wednesday, the BPU said Atlantic City Electric, which serves more than 500,000 customers in South Jersey, could raise monthly bills by 6.12 percent, or about $7.34 for the typical residential customer using 679 kilowatt hours of electricity. Initially the company had sought a 9.55 percent increase.

Regulators approved a settlement, which granted a $70 million change in electric delivery rates to pay for system enhancement projects, such as upgrading distribution feeders, replacing or installing underground cable and enhancing substations.

The utility has said its work has resulted in a 22 percent reduction in the frequency of power outages. When outages did occur, customers were restored 17 percent faster, the company added.

Here are some of the proposals regulators still must decide.

Public Service Electric Gas

The state's biggest utility wants to spend $2.5 billion on improvements to its gas and electric network, including raising and hardening substations in flood zones, upgrading 475 miles of electric circuits to reduce power outages, and adding redundancy to the gas distribution system.

PSE has said it will have a "modest impact" on residential bills. The total impact for a combined residential heat and electric customer will be about 1 percent per year over a 5-year period.

The utility also wants to spend $4.1 billion on infrastructure improvements, such as smart meters that can detect a customer outage when it happens; incentives to buy energy-efficient appliances, and an electric vehicle infrastructure program that includes nearly 40,000 vehicle chargers. PSE has said its efforts will save customers upward of $7.4 billion overall through a combination of measures.

Nuclear subsidy

PSE's parent company, Public Service Enterprise Group, has asked to receive up to $300 million a year to subsidize its Salem and Hope Creek nuclear plants in South Jersey. Public Service, now the state's only nuclear operator, has said it will have to close its nuclear plants without a subsidy. The subsidy will keep help maintain nuclear energy as a portion of the state's energy usage, company proponents have said. Opponents say the plants are profitable and don't need help from ratepayers.

If approved, JCP said annual bills for typical residential customer will rise by $25.56. A PSE customer will see a $30.72 hike in bills while a typical Atlantic City Electric customer will see their annual bill rise by $32.59

The BPU will decide in April.

Jersey Central Power Light

The Morristown-based utility, which covers much of Monmouth, Ocean and Morris counties, wants to spend $387 million over four years on the utility's distribution network, including nearly 4,000 upgrades that will help with reliability and resiliency of overhead and underground electric distribution lines as well as new equipment to reduce the frequency and duration of outages.


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Initially, it's expected to raise the average customer's electric bill by 25 cents a month, the utility has said. The amount would rise to $1.89 a month by the end of the four years.

New Jersey Natural Gas

The Wall-based gas utility, which covers much of Monmouth and Ocean counties, wants to spend $507 million over five years on its natural gas delivery and information technology systems, including replacing steel main, upgrading trunk lines and installing a new critical information technology program to replace its existing systems installed between 1994 and 1997.

New Jersey Natural Gas has said a typical residential heating customer that uses 1,000 therms of natural gas a year could see a bill increase of $18.35, or 1.8 percent, each year, for six years to recover its costs. At the end of the six years, typical residential customers will have seen their annual bill rise $110.10.

David P. Willis: 732-643-4039; Twitter, dpwillis732; Facebook, dpwillis732; dwillis@gannettnj.com.