PSE&G president: Multibillion-dollar infrastructure program needed post-Sandy

NEW BRUNSWICK – PSE&G President Ralph LaRossa said Friday that despite the utility taking up several  measures to minimize damage incurred from Superstorm Sandy, more needs to be done to harden the infrastructure.

To address those needs, LaRossa said the utility company submitted a $3.9 billion capital investment plan to the Board of Public Utilities (BPU). The plan calls for raising substations at a cost of $1.7 billion, moving 20 miles of overhead transmission lines underground ($60 million), upgrading 750 miles of gas distribution systems ($1.04 billion), and improving existing overhead distribution systems ($340 million), among other items.

LaRossa, speaking Friday at a conference at Rutgers University examining post-Sandy infrastructure issues, also mentioned the state may need to consider replacing wooden poles, since they are able to withstand winds of only 55 miles per hour. Some states have concrete poles. However, LaRossa acknowledged that their replacement could create some safety issues for motorists.

The projects would be completed over a 10-year period and create some 5,800 jobs.

LaRossa said the utility was helped by having many contracts in place ahead of time, having fuel on hand  and getting out-of state workers to come to New Jersey as soon as they became available.  There were extra 4,000 linemen brought in.

“We never ran out of gas,” he said.

While he’d like to see more underground transmission lines, LaRossa said the project will be expensive, costing some $3 million per mile.

During Sandy itself, LaRossa said the company took great pains to get customers’ power up and running. In some cities, mobile command centers were set up, providing ice and ready-to-eat meals.

Overall, some $300 million was spent to restore power to some 1.9 million customers, he said. Some 42,000 homes were inspected afterward to make sure gas pipes were not ruptured.

LaRossa said while he was pleased with the progress, there’s always room for improvement.

“We all know we could do better,” he said.

While not citing climate change, LaRossa cautioned that something needs to be done to withstand major weather events, especially since they have been become more frequent.

“The storms have changed,” he said.  “You can’t tell me it’s a one in 100-year event.”  PSE&G president: Multibillion-dollar infrastructure program needed post-Sandy