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In wake of storms, NJ officials call for improved response from utilities

After three nor'easters hit New Jersey with high winds and heavy snow in March, the state Board of Public Utilities set new requirements for its four main electricity providers to improve their preparation and restoration efforts.

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The board on July 25 adopted a staff report that established more than 30 new storm response requirements for the state's four main distribution utilities: Public Service Electric and Gas Co., or PSE&G; Jersey Central Power & Light Co., or JCP&L; Rockland Electric Co.; and Exelon Corp. subsidiary Atlantic City Electric Co., or ACE. Some directives aim to improve preparation before storms hit, such as outage prediction modeling, weather forecast, mutual assistance and workforce planning and deployment. The remaining measures focus on post-storm activities such as restoration times, customer outreach and outage response.

The three nor'easters — Riley, Quinn, and Toby — hit the state from March 2 to March 22 and affected more than 1.2 million customers. In response, Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency and directed the board, or BPU, to evaluate utility preparedness.

"New Jersey had one of the worst winters on record, but my administration has taken the stance that the prolonged service interruptions were, in many cases, preventable," Murphy said July 25.

Smart meter studies

The BPU directed PSE&G, a subsidiary of Public Service Enterprise Group Inc.; JCP&L; and ACE to complete feasibility studies for implementing advanced metering infrastructure, also called smart meters. The board did not include Rockland Electric, an affiliate of Consolidated Edison Inc., because the utility got board approval in 2017 to conduct an AMI study.

PSE&G, which serves 2.2 million electric customers, deployed about 15,000 smart meters for commercial and industrial customers before that communications platform became obsolete, said spokeswoman Karen Johnson. Neither JCP&L nor ACE have implemented smart meters in New Jersey.

Other orders targeted specific utilities. For example, JCP&L, which serves 1.1 million customers in northern and central Jersey, had some of the longest restoration times out of the four utilities. The BPU directed the FirstEnergy Corp. subsidiary to update its outage prediction modeling, which underestimated the severity of the storms.