Utility officials tell lawmakers of Sandy’s unprecedented damage

TRENTON – Utility officials told Senate lawmakers Wednesday  of the unprecedented damage Superstorm Sandy inflicted on the state of New Jersey.

Ralph LaRossa, president and CEO of Public Service Electric & Gas, candidly told lawmakers on the Budget Committee that while his company brought hundreds of extra personnel to the state in preparation for the storm, none were completely prepared for what was about to hit the state.

“We were prepared for what we expected would be a very big event,” LaRossa said. “(But) it hit us in a way that we just did not expect. I’m just going to be blunt about that.”

LaRossa described how wind gusts exceeded what meteorologists originally predicted, explaining the state endured 40 mph to 60 mph sustained winds with gusts reaching 90 mph to 100 mph in some areas.

He also described how the storm surge was the other factor that caused 1.7 million PSE&G customers to lose power.

LaRossa said the “flooding was so dramatic and so quick” that nearly a dozen PSE&G workers didn’t have enough time to evacuate certain areas and were left stranded. It took eight hours to rescue those workers, he said.

PSE&G substations flooded in areas that have never flooded before, LaRossa said.

“We need to put the technology on top of some of those old locations,” he said, explaining how some flood stations were built decades ago in areas that never flooded.

“We really need to know from you and from other companies, how do we fix this?” Senate President Steve Sweeney asked, explaining that while many shy away from talking about climate change, maybe it’s about time lawmakers take a look at how floodplains are, in fact, changing, he said.

He suggested the power company and state invest in redundancies for utility systems, and focus on trimming trees and work on communication protocols.

The hearing, before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, was called to discuss the response of utility companies to Sandy and also address infrastructure vulnerabilities and other potential problems.

Utility officials tell lawmakers of Sandy’s unprecedented damage