Murphy orders BPU investigation into utility responses to storms

At an Andover deli Thursday morning, Gov. Phil Murphy got an earful from exasperated utility customers in Sussex County, where back-to-back nor’easters have left thousands without power. Murphy promised they’d get priority status, but he shared their deep frustration with JCP&L, which has 17,000 customers who’ve been offline since last Friday’s storm, and more than 110,000 out overall as of Thursday afternoon. Local officials accuse the utility of being unprepared.

“You got to make sure that more resources are here to begin with,” said Republican Sen. Steve Oroho.

Murphy replied, “100 percent, before it happens. It’s really maddening that that didn’t happen.”

JCP&L did request “mutual aid” after the first storm. The governor toured one staging area Thursday, where 470 line crews have bunked since the weekend helping to restore power. Workers from more than 30 outside companies arrived to assist JCP&L, and Murphy thanked the linemen, but at a news conference Thursday afternoon, said he’d spoken to the CEOs of all four utilities serving New Jersey.

“We made it very clear to them that job number one is to restore power, but also our deep frustration, frankly it turned from frustration to anger on my part, at the uneven preparedness and the uneven response, not just from the last storm last Friday, but even leading up to that. And in particular, I have to say JCP&L’s apparent lack of readiness remains a major issue that must be and will be looked into further,” said Murphy.

Murphy directed the Board of Public Utilities to conduct a full investigation into utility responses to both storms.

“We’re going to examine what went wrong, and whether the improvements to protect and strengthen our grid devisedvpost-Sandy have been implemented. We will look to see if all preparedness measures were taken before last Friday knowing a major event was coming. My gut tells me they weren’t, and if they have not been, this is entirely inexcusable,” said Murphy.

“The mutual aid assistance is something we have to review, and review carefully. I have very little patience, as the governor does, with crews being sent out of this state when in-state utilities need help,” said Joe Fiordaliso, the president of the Board of Public Utilities.

The BPU currently has no indication JCP&L had assets out-of-state during these recent storms. Officials also mentioned utilities may need to trim back trees more aggressively to reduce the number of outages during heavy snows and high winds. Mayors welcomed the governor’s attention, especially in Byram, where 400 to 500 utility customers remained without power early Thursday.

“I think he heard what we had to say. The proof will be in pudding over the next couple of weeks to see what we can do with the BPU and JCP&L bringing them to some responsibility,” said Byram Township mayor Alex Rubenstein.

The president of the Board of Public Utilities says it can order utilities to follow certain procedures and protocols, and that may happen in the wake of these two storms.