Though a Jersey Central Power and Light representative told the Township Committee on Tuesday night that the utility is making improvements, one township resident urged the municipality to review its franchise agreements with both JCP&L and PSE&G.
John Anderson, an area manager with JCP&L, outlined some of the improvements the electric company has made since the fall 2011 storms when widespread and long-lasting power outages statewide prompted criticism that reached all the way to Gov. Chris Christie.
But the improvements listed by Anderson did not satisfy Winding Way resident David Brook who said that both JCP&L and PSE&G should “make significant financial improvements aimed at improving the reliability” of electric service in Hillsborough.
PSE&G serves about 60 percent of the township, while JCP&L serves the remainder in the western part of the township and in the Sourland Mountain area west of East Mountain Road.
John Sheridan, the director of the township’s Office of Emergency Management, said that after the storms “we were not happy with JCP&L’s response” to outages in the western part of the township.
Sheridan said that he and other township officials have had a series of meetings with the utility. “They were very receptive to our concerns,” he said.
Perhaps the biggest problem was the number of live wires on township roads that blocked emergency vehicles, Sheridan said.
Anderson said that JCP&L learned a major lesson from last year’s storms–“communicate, communicate, communicate.”
The company has upgraded its website, which has a more detailed outage map that is updated 24 hours a day, Anderson said.
Residents and businesses who lose power can now report outages through their smartphones, he said.
JCP&L has also updated its phone system because last year it was “overwhelmed,” Anderson said.
The utility has also increased its social media visibility and can be followed on Twitter and Facebook, he said.
Trucks will be outfitted with laptop computers to allow linemen more access to the latest information and to make better reports.
JCP&L is also launching a more aggressive tree-trimming program near power lines, he said, adding that trees cause about 40 percent of outages.
Overall, the company is making a $200 million investment in its infrastructure, Anderson said.
Assemblyman Jack Ciatarelli, a township resident, said he and other legislators have introduced a bill that would provide “severe penalties” for utilities who have poor communications with customers and restore service in a “reasonable time frame.”
“It’s a pretty big stick,” Ciatarelli said.
Brook, who brought his concerns about the utilities to the Township Committee earlier this year, said the municipality should review its franchise agreements that give the companies permission to operate in Hillsborough.
A review of those agreements, Brook said, may give the township an opportunity to “redefine” what areas each utility serves.
However, those franchise agreements, which may be decades old, cannot be found, Brook said.
Borough Administrator Anthony Ferrera said that he contacted both utilities and both were unable to find copies of the franchise agreements. He said that he has contacted the state Board of Public Utilities to see if it has copies.
If the BPU doesn’t have copies, then Township Attorney Albert Cruz will research the status of Hillsborough’s relationship with the utilities.
Sheridan said he will keep talking with JCP&L. “We will continue to work on it until we’re satisfied we will not have a problem,” he said.