Back in February of 2013, PSE&G put out a proposal for $3.9 billion to finance its Energy Strong project. The Director of AARP New Jersey Jim Dieterle told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he thinks that the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) needs to take a serious look at the request and determine if it is prudent and beneficial to the majority of customers.
AARP is one among several organizations intervening in this case before the BPU. According to Dieterle, the BPU president has basically called the proposal a blank check and the BPU does not OK blank checks. Dieterle said the AARP believes that the $3.9 billion project will push electric and gas rates too high for a lot of their members that are already living on a fixed income.
“We have been receiving many, many comment cards back saying that, ‘I just can’t afford it now. Don’t let this happen,'” Dieterle said.
For low-income people, there is a universal service program, a low-income home energy assistance program, and fuel funds that help people in low-income areas. Dieterle said that the AARP is more concerned with the moderate- to low-income members because even though they are not destitute, they are living on Social Security and small pensions so they are already struggling with their energy bills.
The position of the AARP is not to be against Energy Strong measures that are needed because everyone suffered with Hurricane Sandy, Dieterle said.
PSE&G officials have maintained that the proposed project will fix many of the issues that left customers without power for days after Sandy and prepare them for future storms. Dieterle said that the AARP understands the position of PSE&G but with a 10 percent return on equity, it is only benefiting PSE&G.
An example that Dieterle used was that PSE&G wants to use more than $1 billion just to replace cast-iron gas mains, when there were less than a few thousand people that lost gas service. “What we are saying is that if things need to be done, let’s have them examined by the experts. Let’s get engineering studies and let’s have a rate case to see how much of this should have been done beforehand, how much is already in the rates. Because frankly, it’s just too much money for our members,” Dieterle said.
Only 39 percent of people would be helped by the $3.9 billion being spent and 61 percent would not, said Dieterle.
“The BPU has a job to do. These things need to be transparent. Let’s take a look at what’s really needed. We don’t want any of our members to sit days without electricity, but a billion dollars for gas mains just needs to be examined closely by the BPU,” Dieterle said.