Christie proposes law to spur N.J. utilities during weather emergencies

Gov. Chris Christie wants electric utilities in New Jersey to do a better job of responding to weather-related emergencies.

Christie is proposing legislation that would require power providers to detail service delivery and communications plans before disasters strike.

The governor says he wants to fix problems that led to the frustrating waits customers faced in the dark and cold after Hurricane Irene and last October’s snowstorm.

“We’re also sending a message that these type of mistakes won’t be tolerated,” Christie said. “If emergencies are not planned for and responded to in a deliberate way that serves the ratepayers, there will be real consequences.”

The measure increases fines from $100 to $25,000 a day with a maximum penalty of $2 million for violations in responding to an extended power outage. And it prevents utilities from passing those costs along to customers.

Christie is urging lawmakers to pass the legislation before the winter storm season, and is confident it will be approved.

“I’m sure we’ll find some sponsors for this. I think everybody understands we need to protect the ratepayers,” the governor said Wednesday. “My guess is that there will be kind of a stampede to get your name on this one. Tougher penalties against the utilities just doesn’t seem like a tough political issue.”

New Jersey Board of Public Utilities President Bob Hanna says the BPU looked at penalties other departments and neighboring states have in place to develop its proposal.

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