Last year, Warren Township filed a complaint with the state Board of Public Utilities over the response by utility JCP&L after it's poor response to power outages after Tropical Storm Irene and the October snow'easter.
The township was alone in communities in the area to do so, and this year, officials are planning a better strategy: Township Committee members approved a plan at Thursday's meeting to confront the utility in its bid for a rate increase, filing a complaint to intervene.
And to make sure the township isn't alone in the endeavor, the township is reaching out to other Somerset County municipalities, as well as nearby towns impacted by lengthy power outages after Hurricane Sandy, including Long Hill, Berkeley Heights, Summit and the Chathams.
"Statutorily, the BPU has exclusive jurisdiction over utilities...and the standard is those utilities have to provide safe, adequate and proper service," Township Attorney Jeffrey Lehrer said. Having intervenor status throws a roadblock in the company's effort to obtain a rate increase, he added.
Lehrer noted the BPU "slapped the wrists" of utilities last year after receiving complaints, but didn't really put "any teeth to it."
The plan to file as an intervenor gives the township—and any others joining the effort—an opportunity to challenge JCP&L on perceived failures to provide that "safe, adequate and proper service."
"The BPU seems to function best in its rate review process," Township Administrator Mark Krane added.
The township is also encouraging residents to intervene in the rate hike application, and Mayor Carolann Garafola said the township would prepare bullet points for residents to use in writing their complaints, which would be posted on the township website.
She also said she challenged JCP&L officials to lower rates for Warren customers during Monday's BPU hearing in Basking Ridge, and asked the BPU to look into the company's expenditures on infrastructure in the area compared to the spending in Ohio (where the utility's parent company, First Energy, is based).
Several residents spoke out in favor of the plan, including Betty Grossweiler, who asked for the bullet points, and Bob Morrison, who said more than 200 residents wrote complaints to the BPU after a discussion on the Warren Township Community Forum Facebook page.
"We're all interested in exacting a pound of flesh that is appropriate after three storms," he said.
But resident Joe Lakatos said he wasn't going to support the plan, noting that despite having had plenty of battles with JCP&L, he felt he had to defend the company's response after the "unprecedented" storm.
"You can either be prepared, or you can curse the darkness," he said. "I heard a lot of people curse the darkness."