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15th Anniversary of the Northeast Blackout

The following news article/clip asked the question whether we learned anything since the Northeast Blackout of 2003 that affected more than 55 million people including New Jersey residents. The short answer is no!

The long answer is that Congress passed the Federal Energy Act of 2005 with the goal to “prevent” this kind of wide spread blackouts from happening again. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was directed by this 2005 Act to have significant finnacial incentives for utilities to build transmission lines. Guess what? It worked!

It took a couple years but utility companies, including FirstEnergy/JCP&L and PSE&G, have significantly increased their “investment” in transmission projects. See the chart below from a presentation by the Brattle Group on “Investment Trend and Fundamentals in US Transmission and Electricity Infrastructure”.

Transmission project became a solution in search of problems. Customers of PSE&G, New Jersey’s largest utility, saw transmission rates increased by more than 400% since 2010. In Monmouth County, we saw JCP&L's proposal to build a 230 kV transmission line (Monmouth County Reliability Project) under the pretext it was needed due to population growth and increasing demand in electricity when, in fact, population in Monmouth County has been flat and use of electricity has been declining for the past 10 years.

Fundamentally, the real problem with all the power outages and interruptions that we all experienced (storm related or not) is the direct result of the lack of proper maintenance and investment of the local distribution system (and not from high power transmission lines).

Most people don’t realize it but there are two “reliability” indices that the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) keeps track of for NJ utilities. The first is “CAIDI” or Customer Average Interruption Duration Index. The second is “SAIFI” or System Average Interruption Frequency Index. One would think that these indices should be displayed or easily found on the BPU's website but they are not.

In a 2016 BPU case, expert witness for the Division of Rate Counsel testified to the following:

“Q. How do the FirstEnergy SAIFI and CAIDI indices reported to the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities compare to the IEEE Standards nationally?

A. Based on the 2013 IEEE survey, JCP&L, Penelec and West Penn are generally in the third or fourth quartile, which is poor reliability performance as compared to other utilities in the United States. Although I will focus primarily on New Jersey and JCP&L, I find it important to provide an understanding of just how poorly FirstEnergy reliability performance is in a neighboring jurisdiction with similar characteristics and 34.5 kV 20 facilities."

Q. Does your comparison of FE reliability with the IEEE statistics have any implications in this Docket beyond your FERC Seven-Factor Test analysis?

A. Yes. I contend FE reliability is poor when compared to the IEEE statistics, and that JCP&L is, at best, a median performing utility under the IEEE Standards, and is generally among the worst performing utilities particularly in the Northern Area of New Jersey and most of Pennsylvania, a neighboring state."

At the same time, the US Energy Information Administration reports that New Jersey's average electricity prices are typically among the 10 highest of the 50 states. So, we pay among the highest price in the country for poor reliability and performance! What a deal!?

As an offshoot to RAGE, we formed a new citizen group called CHARGE – Consumers Helping Affect Regulation of Gas & Electric – to educate and bring awareness to the issues in the utilities and energy sector. CHARGE is a non-profit non-partisan dedicated to be the consumer energy advocate for New Jersey’s more than 3 million energy customers.

We need your help and support to be successful! More information to come but, meanwhile, please visit our website for more information and to donate.

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