Christie calls for utility accountability

Published: 8:00 PM EDT Sep 05, 2012   Updated: 6:02 AM EDT Sep 07, 2012

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says step up or pay up. Power companies that are slow to respond to weather emergencies might soon face stiffer fines.

Last year Hurricane Irene dumped 12 inches of rain on the Garden State.

"Knocked out power for about 18 hours or so which wasn't too fun," said Donald Skelly.

Two months later, some customers waited longer than a week for their lights to come back on after a freak October snowstorm downed trees and power lines.

"I don't understand it," said Nancy Defuria. "I mean there were a lot of problems related to the storm and I think they better think twice about getting the power back on a lot quicker to these poor people."

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie felt the same way, and after the storms he ordered a performance review of the four utilities regulated by the state. The Board of Public Utilities released its report and recommendations this week.

Mirroring the report, Wednesday Christie suggested legislation to help protect customers from enduring extended outages.

"Includes measures essential to fixing the system and putting the rate payers first," said Christie.

The governor's plan would require additional storm planning, and set standards for service reliability and restoration of power after disruptions.

The proposed legislation would allow regulators to increase fines for slow storm response from $100 a day to $25,000 a day with a maximum of $2 million.

"It empowers our regulators with the ability to levy financial penalties with real teeth," explained Christie. "And protect rate payers from having the cost of those penalties passed onto them."

He says these mistakes won't be tolerated.

In response, JCP&L, which covers Warren and Hunterdon counties, says it's improved how it responds to major storms.

"Since last August, JCP&L added line crews and operations managers, invested $200 million in reliability of the distribution and transmission system, and adopted new procedures and technology," spokesman Ron Morano said in a statement. "The company also is providing more frequent and better information to local officials and customers before and during outages."