BYRAM - The Byram Township Council expressed its intent to draft two resolutions pertaining to JCP&L — the first in support of vegetation management and the second, requesting the utility strive to improve its infrastructure within the area.
JCP&L-related topics have been discussed at the last two council meetings, with the resolutions proposed at the council’s Feb. 18 meeting; and at the previous meeting on Feb. 4, a presentation by JCP&L’s vice-president of external affairs, John Anderson about the components of JCP&L's “Reliability Plus,” a $97 million investment the utility has made with a main focus on vegetation management.
Several members of the council also questioned if the utility must be better committed to upgrading Sussex County’s network overall to reduce outages, the focus of one of its two resolutions.
At its Feb. 18 meeting, the council agreed to draft a resolution in support of state legislative bills pertaining to vegetation management.
Senate Bill S434 and Assembly Bill A260 were both introduced in January and referred to committees in both houses, with 24th District Legislators Sen. Steve Oroho and Assemblymen Hal Wirths and Parker Space among the sponsors of the bills. The bills for the “Vegetation Management Response Act” will support electric public utilities like JCP&L in maintaining, removing and replacing vegetation that may be near the utility’s right-of-way and could increase the likelihood of an electrical outage.
According to the bills, the Board of Public Utilities ordered the state’s four major utility providers to step up in preparing for inclement weather events after the March 2018 nor’easters. As part of the Vegetation Management Response Act, utilities are responsible for contacting property owners, including municipalities, in advance of planned vegetation management activities. The property owners will receive adequate notice via certified mail, as well as a public notice in two newspapers that serve the municipality where the activity is scheduled to occur.
The legislative bills also emphasize that municipal government bodies, shade tree commissions and other local government entities cannot interfere with the utility’s removal, replacement or maintenance of trees deemed dangerous within rights-of-way.
Anderson told the council and audience on Feb. 4 that more than 80 percent of the outages in the area have been attributed to downed trees. The Reliability Plus program offers enhanced vegetation management by removing overhanging vegetation over the 3-phase lines. He said that property owners are contacted prior to the removal of trees, with a 52 percent success rate in receiving permission from homeowners to remove trees in the right-of-way; and asked if the municipality could assist in cases where a tree is recommended for removal and a resident resists. Township Manager Joseph Sabatini suggested JCP&L consult the township’s tax maps before approaching residents, because the majority of the time, Sabatini said, the township owns the property in the rights-of-way.
During JCP&L’s presentation and the Feb. 18 Council meeting, Councilman Harvey Roseff said the utility has placed too much of an emphasis on vegetation management, when it should be focused on upgrading its network to improve reliability. Jackie Espinoza, JCP&L’s area manager for Sussex County, said the Reliability Plus program, is funded by a rider that costs the average homeowner about 17 cents monthly. Roseff expressed his concerns that JCP&L’s parent company, First Energy, rather than paying dividends to its shareholders, should invest those dividends back into Sussex County’s network, which he said is overdue an upgrade. Roseff said the company has been favoring its shareholders through dividends, rather than its ratepayers.
“Vegetation management is half the puzzle,” Roseff said. “We’ve been in a continual exchange with this utility over a decade and it has been overly-slanted with trees, that we’ve lost sight of the concern, which should be help with the distribution networks.”
According to information provided by Clifford Cole, a spokesperson for JCP&L, the Reliability Plus program will also invest in more “TripSavers,” an electrical device that works like a circuit breaker in a home that re-energizes a power line within seconds, when there is an outage or temporary fault. Substation enhancement, including flood mitigation measures, is another component of Reliability Plus.
Cole said Reliability Plus projects are scheduled for completion at the end of December.
Jennifer Jean Miller can also be reached by phone at: 973-383-1230; on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/JMillerNJH and on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JMillerNJH.