When it comes to emergency preparedness, Gov. Chris Christie has one message for utility companies: do better.
In light of a Board of Public Utilities (BPU) investigation on two large-scale weather calamities in 2011, Christie proposed new legislation that which would levy heavy fines against utilities who fail to live up to their own preparedness plans.
Called the Governor’s Reliability, Preparedness and Storm Response Act of 2012, the bill was inspired by the Christie-commissioned BPU report, which was released Wednesday.
“Hurricane Irene and then the October snowstorm posed some serious, unprecedented challenges for our utility providers,” Christie said.
“While those storms brought out the real professionalism of so many of the employees of the public utilities, they also exposed the vulnerabilities of our utility infrastructure and avoidable mistakes, including the ability to communicate accurate, dependable and timely information to customers and local authorities," the governor said.
BPU recommended 143 improvements based on shortcomings in public utility responses to the hurricane and snowstorm. The review provided specific action items for utility companies to address before future storms by filing detailed service delivery and communications plans with the BPU.
If utility companies fall short again, Christie wants them to pay. The bill proposes daily fines of $100-$25,000, up to a maximum of $2 million in total. Utility companies would be barred from passing the fees along to ratepayers, Christie said.
After Hurricane Irene in 2011, Christie singled out Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) for what he called a failure to communicate effectively to the public and to provide adequate infrastructure. JCP&L also currently faces
JCP&L released a statement in the wake of the legislative announcement, saying it is currently reviewing BPU recommendations.
"As has been well-documented, JCP&L has made many improvements in how we respond to major storms following Hurricane Irene and the October snowstorm," the statement read.
The power company said it has added line crews and operations managers as well as investing $200 million to improve infrastructure in its coverage area.
Although Christie said utility companies have responded better to severe weather events in 2012, he noted they have not yet faced a widespread event on the magnitude of Hurricane Irene and the sudden October snowfall.
"You really are challenged by the big events," Christie said. "We are also sending the message that these types of mistakes won't be tolerated."