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In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Mercer County residents suffered power outages, road closures and local disruptions. Some of the longest hit with power outages seemed to be customers of utility provider, Jersey City Power and Light (JCP&L), who appeared to fare much worse than their nearby PSE&G counterparts. So markedly was the difference in restoration of power, that in 2012 irate residents urged Hopewell Township to dump JCP&L at a Committee meeting (video links here).

In response to this outcry, Hopewell Township requested formal complaints by JCP&L customers affected by power loss in order to provide information, and hired an independent engineering company to assess the quality of service provided by JCP&L at the time of the prolonged power outages. BPU (Board of Public Utility) regulations require that JCP&L provide “reliable service” – and Hopewell Township wanted to know if the utility was making the grade.

Hopewell Township, on behalf of its residents, hired Concord Engineering Group to review JCP&L’s power outage incidents in the Township, as a result of Hurricane Sandy and other storms from 2011 to 2013, and the resulting restoration efforts. Concord interviewed three homeowners/JCP&L customers from different parts of the Township to interview them regarding their personal experiences during the outage events and to determine “if there were any technical or engineering reasons why JCP&L was not able to restore service at each of the homeowner’s locations in a shorter duration.”

Concord’s report is broken-down into 3 sections (here is the link to Concord Engineering’s Final Report):

1) Observations:

In this section, Concord marks its observations of the existing JCP&L service infrastructure. If you’re an engineer or know anything about pole mounted transformers, here’s where you jump into the discussion or laugh at me — something about poles and underground things.

The bottom line is that Concord observed the equipment in all three residential locations and, in what may come as a surprise to area ratepayers, in all three cases, noted no abnormalities in the equipment or cables.

Concord also visited the JCP&L Moore Substation on Pleasant Valley Road near Route 29 and Rocktown Substation on Rocktown-Lambertville Road, which serve the Township residents. Here the report notes that JCP&L service is not compatible with the equipment possessed by nearby customers of PSE&G, dashing hopes of some residents to have their service switched over to the other utility. This much I know: if you have JCP&L, no amount of wishing will allow your house to look up temporarily to PSE&G service and the likelihood of the service area being concerned from one utility to the other appears to be remote.

2) Discussion with homeowners:

Concord interviewed three Hopewell Township residents — all of whom were out of power for over 10 days.  Their major complaints, aside from lack of power, was a lack of communication from JCP&L to homeowners regarding power loss and restoration.

In addition to interviewing the homeowners, Concord Engineering also met with John Anderson, Area Manager for JCP&L about communication with homeowners about the outages, JCP&L’s maintenance procedures, and their plans for improvements to the regional distribution system. It was discussed that JCP&L has recently made system improvements which they claim has made a positive impact on their response and repair times. Further, the company said it has plans in place to improve the Moore and Rocktown Substations involved in the Sandy outages.

3) Report Conclusion: “Concord did not find a sub-standard installation at any of the locations observed, and no sub-standard overhead distribution was observed anywhere in the township. JCP&L is providing acceptable and expected normal power services to all customers in the Township in accordance with the BPU rules and regulations…”

Despite the conclusion that the service was not “sub-standard”, discussions at last week’s township Committee meeting seemed to indicate that the Township would not simply accept Concord’s report as the final word on the matter.

During the meeting Township Mayor Vanessa Sandom explained: “We had an obligation to review whether or not the infrastructure, not just the wires along the roads but other infrastructure, was reliable… and I’m not sure whether the report is something we might agree with. A lot of people suffered a great deal of personal problems because they were without power for 2 weeks… older people who were without power and needed power to use their medical equipment and we have an obligation to make sure JCP&L is providing the best level of service they can to people who have the right to have power,” said Sandom.

The report was released originally in October – but seems to have received little if any media coverage.  MercerMe will continue to follow this story and welcomes comment and insight on the state of the public utilities in your area.

 

An earlier version of this article regrettably contained a typo in the name of Hopewell Township Mayor Vanessa Sandom.  The error has been corrected with our apologies. 

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Mary Galioto
Mary Galioto is the founder, publisher and editor of MercerMe, and a lawyer. Originally from Brooklyn, Mary has progressively moved deeper and deeper into New Jersey, settling in the heart of the state: Mercer County. Formerly the author of an embarrassingly informal blog, Mary is a lifelong writer and asker of questions and was even mentioned, albeit briefly, in the New York Times and Washington Post. In her free time, Mary fills her life with excessive self-reflection, photographing mushrooms, and misguided adventures in random hobbies. Mary also works as the PR Coordinator at the Hopewell Valley Arts Council, serves on the volunteer Board of Trustees of the Lawrence Hopewell Trail (LHT), serves on the Hopewell Borough Board of Health, is a member of the Hopewell Valley Municipal Alliance, and holds the elected position as the Hopewell Borough Democratic Committee Municipal Chairwoman.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I am a local licensed electrician with a good amount of knowledge of jcp&l’s system. The report written up by this engineering firm has some incorrect information. The voltage in all the lines they looked at is 4800 volts not 12470 volts. There is no 12470 volt distribution in that area. It’s a 4800 volt ungrounded delta system that uses a 2 wire phase to phase system for transformer connection. Underground circuits for housing developments use a transformer to step the 4800 up to 7200 volts and create a neutral wire. Jcp&l uses plenty of 7200/12470 wye circuits north of this area. These circuits are similar to pse&g’s 7620/13200 circuits. The issue for service reliability comes from lack of maintenance, old equipment, insufficient tree triming, and the fact that only two 34500 volt transmission lines feed the area. One originates from flemington, the other from the gilbert power plant located between milford and regielsville. There’s plans to add a 230kv transmission line to the rocktown substation which will make the electric service in that area much more reliable.

  2. No problem. I’m not sure where they obtained their information from. Also I’m not sure why they refer to their wiring systems as a “philosophy”. It’s simply 2 different wiring configurations that are actually easily matched with transformers. If they really wanted to temporarily connect to pse&g’s distribution system all they would need is a bank of transformers to match the voltages and metering so pse&g coukd send jcp&l a bill for power used haha.

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