The energy in the room was electric as more than 30 residents voiced their concerns and opinions about their experience with power outages not only resulting from Hurricane Irene and the October 29 snow storm, but ongoing outages, as many as eight long term outages in the past year completely unrelated to weather conditions.
The tone of residents’ comments ranged from deliberate and logical recommendations for change going forward to complete exasperation and raw frustration, as representatives from Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) listened for almost three hours during the Washington Township Committee meeting on Mon. Nov. 21, 2011.
Senator Anthony R. Bucco, and his son Assemblyman Anthony Mark Bucco, also expressed their grave concern over the chronic power outages as well as the handling of the outages related to the two major storms that occurred on August 29 and October 29, 2011.
“This is just not acceptable,” said Senator Bucco to Stan Prater, Area Manager for JCP&L.
Bucco said he was out of power for six days and he knows first hand the hardships that many residents have had to endure.
Of the many comments, the concerns and recommendations came down to a few major demands that included:
* improved communications between JCP&L and its customers during major power outages as well as shorter term, but chronic outages;
* solid commitment from JCP&L to radically upgrade the infrastructure in and around Washington Township which not only would include updating equipment, but also in some cases installing power lines underground, and a more rigorous and frequent tree-trimming schedule;
* significant improvement in planning efforts for additional crews and utilization of electrical workers during major outage events.
Mayor Kenneth Short, who invited JCP&L representatives to meet with the Township Committee and residents, said at the outset that he did not want to dwell on the pain and suffering endured by thousands of residents, but rather focus on specifically what kind of changes and improvements could be made as quickly as possible.
"I'm also looking for absolute assurance and commitment from JCP&L that it will turn around this situation that will no longer be tolerated by residents," said Short.
In response to the many comments and complaints, Prater said that JCP&L has plans to resolve the outage issues through more frequent tree trimming and the installation of a new and critical connection between the Chester sub station 17541 and the Drakestown sub station 17101, that JCP&L engineers expect will alleviate the chronic outage problems for residents in the area of Bartley and Four Bridges Roads, an area that has experienced seven major outages in the last year.
But residents’ like Tracy Tobin, who was recently elected to the Township Committee, is skeptical that the company will make good on its promises.
“What we’ve seen from JCP&L is a company that is reactive, not proactive,” said Tobin.
Long time residents of the township, like Roger Friday said he and his neighbors have been dealing with outages for decades.
“I’m not only one of the black boxes on the map that the company refers to when an outage occurs, I’m living in a black hole,” said Friday who was out of power for four days in October of 2008 and eight days after the most recent storm.
Residents also called for honesty from the company.
“We need to know how much JCP&L plans to spend on improving infrastructure in this township,” said Dennis Wharton, who experienced seven outages in the last year.
Other complaints lodged by many residents included being told by JCP&L customer service representatives that since their homes were in sparsely populated neighborhoods that they were considered low priority when reestablishing power during major outages.
Prater said the goal of the company has been to first concentrate on restoring power to highly populated areas first to which several residents responded with indignation calling the practice unfair.
One Hyland Avenue resident, who has lived in the township for only five and a half months and has been without power for a total of 14 days was told by JCP&L that she was in a low priority area.
She said, “My taxes don’t reflect that I live in a low priority area and I pay the same rate as everyone else for electricity and yet I’m considered a low priority, this is just not right.”
Mayor Short said that he expects JCP&L to respond to the dozens of questions posed by residents and make the answers available on the Washington Township Web site in two weeks.
Assemblyman Bucco urged residents to get in touch with him and his father if they have specific problems that are not being addressed.
“If you can’t get an answer, we will do everything to get an answer for you,” said Bucco.
Another resident recommended that the township establish a committee to deal with the outage issue and work on an on-going basis with JCP&L to make the recommended improvements.
Another resident suggested that the township investigate the possibility of getting power from another energy company and discontinuing paying tariffs to JCP&L.