Yesterday, I detailed some of the frustration local, county, and state officials are expressing for JCP&L, the electric utility and “NJ’s Most Hated Company!”® I’ve got some more below. But first, let’s check in with the governor: what does Chris Christie think about JCP&L’s response?
Gov. Chris Christie came to the defense Thursday of Jersey Central Power& Light, saying the utility has improved significantly since last year’s widely panned Hurricane Irene and October snowstorm performances.
At a morning press conference at the Somerset National Guard Armory, Christie said 390,000 customers remain without power in the state, including 167,000 who lost power during Wednesday’s nor’easter. He said damage from the nor’easter was less extensive than had been feared, and represented only a “slight” setback in the overall recovery.
Christie said more than 90 percent of the customers at three of the state’s utilities – Public Service Electric & Gas, Atlantic City Electric and Rockland Electric – are now with power. Nearly a quarter of JCP&L’s customers remain in the dark, but Christie said that doesn’t make the utility a “laggard.”
“No, they just have the toughest territory in this regard,” Christie said.
He noted that JCP&L covers both some of the most heavily wooded areas in the state, and also most of the state’s coastline, “so they drew the short straw on this one, from a logistics perspective.”
The governor said he would again do an after-action report to evaluate the performance of all of the state’s utilities, but so far, he said he’s pleased.
That’s an interesting response, considering many people in Christie’s base have a differing view of JCP&L:
Three men were trapped in an overturned vehicle for more than a half-hour as Vernon rescue workers waited for a JCP&L crew to remove what were believed to be dangling power lines, said township Police Chief Roy Wherry.
In the end, utility workers never came and the lines turned out to be harmless telephone lines, which were removed by rescue workers.
“You wouldn’t want your wife and kid to be in that vehicle. You didn’t know when or if help was ever going to come,” said Lt. Randy Mills. “Even phone lines can be hazardous, they can be energized by power lines.”
Wherry had some harsh words for the electrical utility.
“It seems like after every disaster JCP&L apologizes and promises to get better, but they never do,” he said.
According to a recorded conversation provided by Vernon police. the JCP&L operator initially asks, “What state are you calling from?” and the conversation ends with her saying she could not give an estimated time when help would arrive.
“When you’re first asked, ‘What state are you calling from,’ that’s not a good sign,” said Mills.
And the hits just keep on coming:
Mayor Jarrett Engel said he is certainly not satisfied with communication from JCP&L.
In an online update, Engel said he is seeing many streets in bordering towns get power up, while much of Colts Neck remains in the dark.
“Unfortunately, we have found that communication with JCP&L regarding timing and location has been unreliable and inaccurate; with no information beyond today, other than that most of our town should have power by Wednesday,” Engel said.
With many of his town’s residents still without power nearly a week after Hurricane Sandy landed on New Jersey’s shores, Red Bank Mayor Pat Menna isn’t willing to let Jersey Central Power and Light off easy, even as it coordinates its largest power restoration effort ever.
On his Facebook page, Menna, who criticized the power conglomerate for its admittedly poor response following last year’s Hurricane Irene, said JCP&L has not provided the borough with clear answers as to when Red Bank will be back at full power, offering only “corporate doubletalk” instead.
And you, Mr. Another Mayor?
Dear Wayne Resident:
Since the first day of Hurricane Sandy, Wayne Township has been in contact with the utility companies that serve the residents of our Township. In no uncertain terms, the Township has demanded an acceptable level of attention in restoring power to everyone impacted as quickly as possible. While both utilities have earned low marks, Jersey Central Power & Light has been remarkably slow.
Residents have reported increasing sightings of JCP&L trucks in Springfield. But that hopeful sign of work on power restoration follows a long and frustrating process of dealing with the power company, judging by communication from Springfield Mayor Ziad Shehady.
In a strongly worded email shared with state officials and the media, Shehady blasts how the power company has shared information, accusing them of “blatantly lying about restoration figures and withholding information.”
In the message, Shehady describes communicating with JCP&L as a circuitous and frustrating process.
“The conference calls are absolutely useless,” Shehady writes. “Area managers and representatives refer us to the conference calls for updates but the calls do not give new information and refer us back to area managers and representatives. This is circular and shameless.”
In a phone message to residents, Police Chief Jerry Vasto expressed “frustration” with JCP&L. He said, “There is serious damage to the Atlantic Higlands substation. To what extent we don’t know.” The borough hopes to get a time frame for restoration from JCP&L. Chief Vasto also said the borough was making its frustration with JCP&L known to the Governor’s Office.
Any other police chiefs want to say something?
Nevertheless, customers continued to question the utility company’s ability to restore power and communicate effectively Wednesday both on the ground and on call-in shows in New Jersey.
“It appears to me that JCP&L is a very unorganized organization,” Mike Mathis, police chief for the town of Berkeley Heights, told WNYC. “I’m very, very, very disappointed.”
One issue both Kapner and Lesnewich discussed was JCP&L and the company’s failure to provide residents and borough officials alike with adequate communications following Hurricane Sandy.
“I think what happened this year is we had a [JCP&L] representative come speak with us after the complete failure of communication that had occurred. We thought we had that part straighten out because it was the lack of communication, which leads to confusion, which leads to people not understanding what’s happening – that’s the problem,” Lesnewich explained. “This year, I find the same thing is happening and I have listened into some of the meetings with JCP&L every day and the same questions come up, the same concerns come up and the only thing that’s changed is the attitude seems a little bit better in terms of saying, “We’re sorry, we’ll get back to you” as opposed to last year, “too bad.”
Lesnewich said he’s the type of person who prefers to know any news so he can act accordingly.
“If it’s bad news, tell me the bad news. If it’s good news, tell me the good news. People can’t make decisions if they don’t know what’s happening,” Lesnewich explained. “So I can know I have to keep my generator going or I can know maybe to get a hotel room. Or I can know that my elderly parents need to be moved out of town. One of the problems is a lot of these decisions are being called [from JCP&L] in Ohio. We’re in New Jersey. It’s a huge problem.“
Over the past several days, Township Administrator Gail McKane has worked hard to arrange bringing in additional, 3rd party repair crews to work with JCP&L personnel to speed up the restoration of power in Harding. Additional repair crews have been lined up, but JCP&L has so far denied allowing them into Harding, offiicials say.
“Obviously this is not satisfactory to the township, and we have escalated this issue with other senior governmental officials including State Senator Codey and Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen,” the towship said in a statement.
Without approval from JCP&L, Harding will lose access to these crews.
JCP&L does not explain how these numbers are calculated. The numbers fluctuate substantially day-to-day without explanation.
The power restoration numbers claimed by JCP&L do not appear to be anywhere close to the actual facts on the ground (i.e. the numbers do not appear believable).
And that’s just a sampling of the discontent – much of it, again, within Christie’s suburban base. JCP&L has some hard days ahead; they’ve lost a lot friends just when they needed them the most:
The same could not be said for JCP&L, which has come under intense criticism for its performance in past storms, so much so that the state Division of Rate Counsel convinced the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to convene a proceeding to determine if the utility was earning too much above its regulated rate of return.
According to Moody’s, FirstEnergy Company, the owner of JCP&L, also has yet to estimate Sandy’s financial impact. The expected restoration costs relative to the size of the overall company and an expectation “around ultimate cost recovery should be sufficient to prevent a rating downgrade,” Moody’s said.
Paul Patterson, an energy analyst at Glenrock Associates, said he does not expect the utilities to have a difficult time in recovering restoration costs.
“It doesn’t behoove regulators to punish utilities as a means of dealing with a storm response,” Patterson said. “If you want higher reliability, generally speaking then you had to pay for it.”
In response to last year’s storms, the Christie administration and legislators are moving to stiffen penalties for utilities that fail to respond quickly to storm outages. The bill has yet to win final approval from lawmakers.
You have to wonder how all this squares with Christie’s support for JCP&L. Considering so much of the criticism of the utility is coming from his base, he may be taking a different attitude with “New Jersey’s Most Hated Company!”® before too long.