By David Cruz
PSE&G President Ralph LaRossa says the state’s largest utility has been working on upgrading its systems throughout its service area since the Great East Coast Blackout. Remember when?
“One single tree fell in Ohio in 2003 and policy makers in the federal government said it’s time to step up and make investments in infrastructure,” he said, “so we followed the policy lead in 2003 and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do on the back end of Sandy, as well.”
Hardening its system after the storm has been the priority for the utility and the result has been an economic boon for the state’s economy. Today, LaRossa, political and union officials gathered in North Brunswick to tout the results of a new study by the Bloustein School at Rutgers, which shows the economic impact of a 10-year capitol plan started by the utility in 2011.
According to the report, the utility will invest $8 billion over 10 years, supporting 6,000 jobs, $4.3 billion in salaries and benefits and $640 million in state and local taxes — a $6.6 billion boost to the state’s GDP.
“This spending is occurring at a time when, as this audience knows well, the state is still recovering from the harsh recession of 2008, 2009, a recovery that, in terms of the state’s labor market, is still very, very much incomplete,” said Joe Seneca, an economic professor at Rutgers and co-author of the report.
There was a lot of talk today about power, transmission, generation, importation, exportation, but the real power, say officials, is the power of a job and the energy that employment can generate.
“Changing somebody’s life from being unemployed, sitting on the bench, not paying your bills to becoming employed with good benefits and a good future,” added Sen. Donald Norcross. “That’s what we’re talking about here today — good jobs for New Jersey.”
The study is not definitive, and economic conditions can change even the best-laid plans of utilities and politicians. But for a room full of union workers eager to get back to work, 6,000 jobs a year for a decade is nothing to sneeze at. And, of course, the system upgrades are cool, too.
“All these things do is put people to work but, at the end of the day, you actually have something to show for it because when the storm hits and you flip the switch, the lights go on,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney. “That’s what people want to know.”
But what’s all this going to mean to ratepayers? Utility officials say that’s hard to pinpoint right now but upgrades of this magnitude don’t come cheap and ratepayers are likely to end up picking up at least some of the tab for this ambitious plan.