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O'Toole Thanks Constituents, Drafts Legislation

Proposed law would allow municipalities to switch utility companies.

Editor's Note: Kevin O'Toole represents the state's 40th Legislative District.

Dear Friends:

From the moment Hurricane Sandy hit District 40 until today, your elected officials and I have been in constant, sometimes multiple times a day, communication about the needs of your community.

Whether it was organizing a meeting with the President of PSE&G for your mayors, vociferously advocating to the CEOs of PSE&G, JCP&L or Orange & Rockland that their crews need to be in your town, arranging for fuel deliveries for municipal first responder vehicles and police cars, or calling about a down tree on your block, the coordination between us was exceptional. This collaboration between your elected officials to get everyone through this crisis is an example of how government is supposed to function.

As we now move into the phase of returning our lives to normal after Hurricane Sandy, I just wanted to bring you up to speed on some important things that are happening.

I have introduced and am having drafted the following legislation:

  • S-2206 The Reliability, Preparedness, and Storm Response Act of 2012: Requires all utilities doing business in New Jersey to file a service reliability plan as well as a communications plan to deal with storms such as Hurricane Sandy. It also provides for an increase in penalties against the utilities for not restoring service in a prompt and timely manner.  
  • New Jersey Residents Power Protection Act (being drafted): This bill requires certain facilities to install generators in the event of power outages and provides these businesses with a tax credit of $10,000 for purchasing the equipment. This bill applies to gas stations, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, sub-acute rehabilitation facilities and EMS facilities among others.
  • Upgrades penalties for certain crimes committed during a state of emergency (being drafted): Under this bill, if certain crimes are committed during a declared State of Emergency the penalties for those crimes is doubled. The reason for this bill is to punish those who think that during a time of emergency it is ok to commit crimes against those that are focused on rebuilding their lives. The crimes this bill would apply to are: robbery, burglary, unlicensed entry of structures, defiant trespass, shoplifting, rioting, failure to disperse, interference with transportation, and interception of emergency communication. Price gouging is currently covered under the Consumer Fraud Act.
  • Allow for municipality to switch their utility provider (being drafted): I have heard from residents and municipal officials alike about wanting to get rid of your current utility if they are unresponsive to your requests. Currently, it is nearly impossible to switch your utility provider. My office has begun the process of drafting legislation to ease those restrictions so you, the residents, have the ability to pick your utility company.

 During the upcoming weeks and months there will be hearings held and investigations conducted into the practices of our utility companies and how best to deal with the habitual offenders and take corrective measures to ensure we are not repeating the same mistakes. The first such hearing will be held on Monday, November 26, 2012 at the Toms River Town Hall. I ask that you send to my office any suggestions you might have on how to correct these problems as well as specific issues you had. I want to present to the utility companies your troubles and proposed solutions.

Also, on November 28, 2012, I will be holding a meeting with the President of the Board of Public Utilities and your Mayor. I would like to present at that meeting your stories for the Board of Public Utilities to have as they begin their review process. You can send your correspondence to my office via email at senotoole@njleg.org or call 973-237-1360.

It is my commitment, to you, that I will do everything within my power to hold these utility companies responsible and accountable for their actions.

As always, if there is anything my office can be of assistance with, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

Kevin J. O’Toole

Senator, District 40 

Robert Pignatello November 19, 2012 at 03:00 PM
I think we should take Senator O’Toole up on his invitation to react to his legislation and provide our feedback. There will be a next time and we must continue to press for common sense reforms and action. The response to this year’s storm was the same as the one from last year’s snow storm for those of who unfortunately have JCP&L as our Utility provider – only worse. Last year we lost power for 8 days. There was little, really no, communication regarding restoration progress or plans. It was almost impossible to speak to a live person. It was very difficult to make any contingency plans not knowing if you would be without power for a couple of days, a week, two weeks or more. This time it was 12 days. From my vantage point JCP&L has only a pocket of customers in Wayne and organizing and efficient restoration and communication strategy was just not a priority. Yes, there were workers deployed here from as far away as California and some drove here from Michigan, Massachusetts, West Virginia and other states. I don’t think Wayne was one of their first stops. It was going to take them however long they were going to take despite any efforts from local officials to make it happen any sooner than it did in the end.
Robert Pignatello November 19, 2012 at 03:01 PM
I had heard that after last year’s storms the State was supposed to hold the utilities more accountable because of poor performance. That did not seem to happen at all. Many of us would like to know why. From what I have read burying lines sounds too expensive to undertake. Can more be done to protect transformers which lit up the sky like fireworks? Most definitely there too many private and town trees entangled in utility cables. Sidewalk repair and replacement that led to cutting roots may have contributed to weakened trees. We need a better coordinated strategy regarding tree management. Many people who don’t already have generators are going to be and are rushing out to buy them. The gas lines made getting gas more those generators very difficult of course. A tax credit for businesses to get them is a good idea. What about homeowners? A natural gas generator to power up a typical home can be $5,000 and up. That is very prohibitive.
Brad November 19, 2012 at 06:25 PM
How will the $10,000 tax credit be funded? Our taxes are already insanely high and any and all new taxes must be offset in reduction of another expense, raising property taxes is not an option
Brad November 19, 2012 at 06:26 PM
How about a law the states the utility must pay each household a $100 per day for loss of power. That would make them work faster
Big Bird November 19, 2012 at 06:45 PM
I do not know why the Senator is thanking his constituents, but I agree with Robert even if he lost his way until now we need leadership here. PSE&G offers boiler replacement without upfront cost. The customer pays a small increment each month until the machinery is fully paid for. Here is a suggestion for the Senator. Assuming we are stuck with JCP&L they should offer us a low monthly payment plan to purchase a permanent natural gas fired generator. If we bought in bulk maybe we could get them for $3,500. If the cost was $65 / month for 5 years I would say yes to know I have stable electric. Maybe as a settlement to our economic losses the Senator can require JCP&L to contribute towards tour cost as part of a common since contingency plan.
Big Bird November 19, 2012 at 06:46 PM
You have my vote on that Brad!
Jacqueline Pisatowski November 19, 2012 at 07:27 PM
Senator O’Toole, Everything you have coordinated to aid our community is appreciated. However it is clear that JCP&L did not spend the last 12 months positioning themselves to better manage our power grid. You knew about JCP&L’s performance last year. Did they realistically in good faith care enough to make necessary adjustments to their contingency plan? A statesman, like yourself, should have waited until the legislation actually became law before he issues press releases. We are educated people. Do not lose touch with what the public needs right now. The holidays are coming and we used our money to rent hotel rooms, buy gas for our generators, and we lost time on the job. Would it be possible to require JCP&L’s General Liability insurance to respond to our economic loss?
Brad November 19, 2012 at 09:04 PM
And my proposal of $100 per household per day to be paid to each homeowner is cheap for jcp&l if we had to rent hotels in an emergency it would have been $300 a night or if we bought a generator plus the has for it, that would be $1,000. I lost $500 just in food alone for having no power for 12 days. We hear about hundreds of millions being donated to hurricane relief and where is it going. There better be 100% accountability into those funds especially the Red Cross they are very corrupt, 60% of the money goes to them for "administration". And all this relief money will go to business to rebuild better than they had before but is homeowners will see nothing and eat it while the businesses at the shore will all have brand new stores and equipment and then use that to charge more to its customers and they will come out ahead while use little guys will each be out hundreds of dollars.....
Warren November 20, 2012 at 03:33 AM
O'Toole enough of the bureacratric legislative proposals. This legislative scheme shows that you have no clue nor interest to deal with these monopolistic utilities. The so called "private - government "companies have little incentive to place their profits back into their businesses. Why should they care about great customer service.The bottom-line is that you and your fellow Politicians are beneficaries of these companys' campaign contributions. As long as New Jersey continues to support "pay to play" contracting, nothing will change and the people will continue to be screwed. Where were you and your fellow politicians between storm events to serve as a watchdog on these companies service and infrastructure improvements? The only time that we hear from you is when your campaign contributors like JCP&L respond poorly to a disaster. Then we listen to your bloviating and utter surprise at their lack of service. Of course, this is done with a wink and a nod to your corporate crony allies. Give us all a break.

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