Rooney, DePhillips bill turning the heat up on poor performing utilities clears committee

TRENTON, N.J. – Two Bergen county legislators say towns should be able to pull the plug on utilities that fail to provide safe and adequate service.

An Assembly panel voted 8 to 0 today to advance a bill sponsored by Assemblymen Christopher DePhillips and Kevin J. Rooney, permitting municipalities to switch providers.

Several nor’easters earlier this year left hundreds of thousands of Orange and Rockland and JCP&L customers in North Jersey without power, some for weeks. Local officials and residents were furious with the utilities’ lack of preparation and communication.

“There’s no excuse for chronic incompetence,” said DePhillips (R-Bergen). “Keeping the lights on isn’t rocket science. People should be confident they’ll have heat or AC regardless of the weather. We’re putting utilities on notice. Mayors will be able to look elsewhere for more responsive, efficient service.”

“This bill will inject much-needed competition into the utility industry,” continued DePhillips. “Towns should not be stuck with the same utility forever against their will.”

The measure (A3736) allows towns to revoke a utility’s franchise for poor service, limits franchise contracts to seven years, and increases penalties from $100 up to $25,000 per day for violating BPU rules and regulations.

“The poor dissemination of accurate information was and continues to be unacceptable during power outages,” said Rooney (R-Bergen). “Elected officials and their customers rely on accurate information, when not given there’s a perception that their power utility is an uncaring corporation, interested in profit rather than customer.”

Orange and Rockland has 300,000 electric customers in northern New Jersey and New York. JCP&L serves 1.1 million customers Burlington, Essex, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union and Warren counties.