By Brenda Flanagan
“What we’re mad about and what we’re angry about is the way JCP&L coordinated the whole thing,” said Neha Limaye, an unhappy customer. She says the utility’s slow response to Sandy left her whole neighborhood in the dark for two weeks.
“What we want to know is, what did JCP&L do to prepare for the storm? They should have informed us. Communication was failing on JCP&L’s part,” Limaye said.
“I feel rotten. I feel like I’m gonna go look someplace else to get my electricity,” said JCP&L customer Edward Schmidt.
Limaye created a Facebook page to air her grievances. It’s got more than 600 friends and today a handful joined her for a long-awaited meeting with JCP&L executives at the company’s headquarters in Morristown. A two-hour meeting had mixed results.
Limaye said, “Give us the transparency, give us that look into what you’re doing.” She added that she didn’t get a clear answer from JCP&L representatives about what they’re doing to make changes.
Spokesman Ron Morano says JCP&L’s spending $200 million to upgrade its infrastructure and improve its communications and that it did reach out during Sandy.
“Both working with municipalities, working with offices of emergency management, bringing significant resources — the biggest workforce ever assembled in New Jersey to respond to the damage that was caused by Hurricane Sandy,” Morano said.
But JCP&L’s now requesting a 4.5 percent rate increase. It’s got six public hearings scheduled. Those promise to be lively. But some lawmakers say six hearings are nowhere near enough.
“I’d characterize it as insensitive,” said Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli who represents the 16th legislative district, including chunks of Somerset County. He says those constituents complain the public hearings — in Freehold, Morristown and Toms River — are too far away.
“I think it would’ve a been a much better PR move — some call it ‘optics — if Jersey Central Power & Light had volunteered to have hearings in every county in which they have ratepayers,” Ciattarelli said.
“That’s not up to us to handle,” Morano said. “Again, we don’t control the hearing process.”
Morano says JCP&L doesn’t set the public hearing schedule — a judge does. So Cittarelli’s asking the judge to schedule a few more — and he’s co-sponsoring legislation that would guarantee every utility customer hearings in their own counties, before rate increases go online.