Environmental groups move to intervene in utility rate case

Environmental groups reported Monday they are seeking to intervene in a rate case involving the state’s largest utility in order to pursue increased use of renewable energy and greater efficiency.

The Sierra Club and the Environmental Federation want the Board of Public Utilities to require Public Service Electric and Gas to incorporate efficiency and renewable in its plans.

Among other things, PSE&G is requesting $3.9 billion for improvements to the grid over the next 10 years as part of its Energy Strong program.  

Another utility, JCP&L, is requesting a 4.8 percent rate increase for improvements following Superstorm Sandy.  That would amount to over $345 million for Sandy on top of $31 million from an earlier request, environmentalists said.

Earlier this year, BPU reported to the Legislature that PSE&G’s program to upgrade its grid would increase rates by 8 percent. However, the utility maintains that rates would not increase that much and would stay relatively flat for many customers.

Among other things, PSE&G states in its Energy Strong plan that over 10 years it will raise and relocate 31 switching substations; replace 750 miles of low-pressure gas mains; create additional redundancies to shorten outages; and bury overhead lines in areas that could most benefit from that.

But the utilities and the state are not doing enough, the environmentalists assert.

“We are intervening in this case to try to get BPU to do the job they should be doing all along, making our grid system more resilient to future storms,” Jeff Titttel of the Sierra Club said in a release.  “We can do this through energy efficiency, distributive generation, and renewable energy.”

And David Pringle of the Environmental Federation said, “We’re intervening because improved efficiency will not only result in cleaner air and improved public health but also financial relief for industrial and residential consumers and good jobs.”

The groups said that BPU should require utilities to take steps to prevent some of the problems that occurred during Sandy from happening again.

“We the rate payers are paying for the utilities’ past mistakes.  Had they invested more in renewable energy, efficiency, and smart grid we would not have had the outages and problems we had,” Tittel said.   

A spokesman for PSE&G rebutted the environmentalists’ claims.

“PSE&G has a long history of commitment to energy efficiency and renewable energy,” spokesman Michael Jennings said. 

“We have invested over $1 billion in solar and energy efficiency programs in recent years and our most recent solar filing was approved in May.   We share the Sierra Club’s view that renewable generation and energy efficiency must be a significant part of N.J.’s energy future, but that does not reduce the need to harden and protect our distribution infrastructure from natural disasters like Sandy. 

“PSE&G’s Energy Strong Program recognizes that we must take actions to upgrade and harden our infrastructure,  to minimize future customer power outages and improve service restoration time. We look forward to a fair and frank discussion of our proposal.”

In addition, he pointed out that PSE&G’s proposal has widespread backing. He said it has the support of 54 municipalities, several counties, as well as labor and business groups such as the state Chamber of Commerce, and organizations such as the N.J. Hospital Association.

Environmental groups move to intervene in utility rate case