After Hurricane Sandy hit, millions of New Jerseyans were without power, including many customers of Jersey Central Power & Light who stayed in the dark for an extended period of time. The utility company has a new president, James Fakult, who told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that his number one priority is to help improve the reliability of JCP&L service and its response to electric outages.
“New Jersey has seen three very significant storms in the last 18 months and quite frankly I’m here to help improve reliability, listen to our customers, understand what they need, what they want,” Fakult explained. “Their expectations are changing and if we can do that right, I think we’ll be in good shape.”
JCP&L has appointed the first director of emergency preparedness, William Stevenson. Fakult said Stevenson has been a veteran of the company, with more than 40 years of experience. “He’s a volunteer firefighter, he understands emergency response. Key new person on my staff to help make sure that we restore lights quickly and safely,” he said.
The utility company is facing a Board of Public Utilities deadline at the end of September to implement new requirements for emergency preparedness. Fakult said JCP&L will meet the deadline. “There’s 84 mandates that came out of Hurricane Irene. There’s additional mandates that came out of Hurricane Sandy. We’re probably 80, 90 percent done,” he said. “Each month we have had to complete some. We’ve been either at or ahead of schedule. So absolutely we’re gonna meet the deadline.”
JCP&L has an announcement scheduled for tomorrow with the IBEW, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Fakult explained the partnership is “about getting additional feet on the street. It’s about getting local, New Jersey-based contractors, electricians to help us. Our primary responders are our linemen, our substation electricians. They’re the first forces in. But these folks are going to be a very quick following second. Their primary role is gonna be hazard response, identification. They can help us do some work on the customer house but we’re extremely excited about that relationship.”
Fakult said JCP&L has invested more than $1.8 billion in infrastructure improvements over the past 10 years and plan $200 million in improvements this year. “I think we’re in better shape even today than we were a year ago with some of the projects. Trimming more trees, enhancing distribution circuits, transmission circuits,” he said. “The grids are in pretty good shape. It’s been reliable. We have invested and we are continuing to invest as we speak.”
Currently the BPU is considering a 4.1 percent rate hike for JCP&L. Fakult said the increase is about $30 million, a little more than $1.50 per month. “The BPU is reviewing it. It’s an open case. We’re working with them, we’re cooperating fully and we’ll see where it ends up,” he said.
Last month, JCP&L saw its credit rating slide from BBB to BBB- according to Fitch Ratings. Despite the downgrade, Fakult said the company is still in good shape. “We’re able to get the capital, access to it, we need and we’re doing OK. We’re fine right now,” he said.
Fakult said the utility will be more ready should New Jersey feel the brunt of another strong storm. “Let’s hope we don’t get hit with another hurricane, but if we do, as I said, I think we’re better prepared and we’re ready for it,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of good people in place, a lot of new processes and like I say, we’re ready to hit it.”