WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
Last week, the state legislature weighed in on the post-Sandy performance of the power utilities. This week it's the public's turn.
Board of Public Utilities President Bob Hanna says when it comes to communicating with the public after Sandy, all of the state's power utilities earned an "F." He says utility reps often had no information for local officials.
"Or worse yet and unbelievably provided incorrect information, saying for instance that crews would be there tomorrow morning, tomorrow morning would come and go—they're not there. That can't happen," Hanna told a State Senate panel.
Public hearings start Monday night in Basking Ridge and move on to Lake Hopatcong and Ramsey later this week. The public testimony will be part of the regulatory record that the BPU will rely on in evaluating the performance of the state's utilities.
Hanna says the lack of communication between the public, local officials and the utilities was flagged by the regulator last year.
"The utilities are not generating the information in a way that is helpful to the public. The Hurricane Irene Report identified this as a weakness," Hanna said, adding there was some improvement but much more needed to be done.
Post Sandy, one of the biggest complaints from local officials zeroed in on the inability of the power companies to know whose power is on and whose is off. CEO's for the state's two biggest utilities, Public Service Electric and Gas and Jersey Central Power and Light estimate installing so-called "smart meters" system wide to solve that problem would cost $1.1 billion.
At one point after Sandy struck, more than 2.7 million New Jersey households and businesses lost power. As the power outage persisted, thousands of consumers called the BPU's complaint line and the regulators computer system crashed. Jersey Central Power and Light garnered 3,200 complaints while Public Service and Gas, the State's biggest power company, logged more than 700.