Committeeman George Newberry at a recent workshop session of the Township Committee let loose a barrage of scathing criticisms of Jersey Central Power & Light after a representative from the company finished a short talk about steps the utility is making to improve communication with its customers.
Pete Johner, a JCP&L representative, touted improved website capability for customers of the utility to report power outages and see where power has been lost, as well as new avenues of communication to municipalities in his 15-minute talk.
But Newberry, a longtime electrical contractor and volunteer firefighter, was not impressed.
Newberry said JCP&L’s infrastructure was failing, its maintenance was lacking and its response to problems is insufficient, among other problems.
“I’m personally disgusted with the lack of maintenance throughout the system,” Newberry said. “When I wake up in the morning and the alarm goes off, I’m always impressed that you actually kept the power on all night, because the infrastructure is about ready to collapse.”
Johner, who volunteered to speak to the committee Wednesday, said the company was undergoing a great deal of change to improve communication in the wake of last year’s storms and as part of an investigation by the Board of Public Utilities, the state agency that oversees utility companies.
“Communication was absolutely horrendous,’’ Johner said. “Everybody knows it, everybody heard about it. We heard about it.”
Johner said the company is streamlining and computerizing paperwork being carried around by utility workers and using GPS tracking to help speed response time. He said improvements are being made to the company’s online outage map.
He also availed himself to committee members as a conduit for information anytime day or night.
But Newberry said the communication was only part of the problem.
“As a volunteer firefighter I’m called out quite often when it rains to sit and babysit lines which aren’t maintained or are rubbing against trees that should have been trimmed, causing other problems.
“One- to two-hour response time is what we are told," he said. “I can sit and look at $750,000 worth of apparatus and 12 volunteers who would rather be home with their families who have to sit there and stare at a wire – they didn’t cause the hazard, the resident didn’t cause the hazard. Your company did. When I call the gas company, I don’t get that kind of response. They show up.’’
Newberry said he supported the idea of a legislative effort to require JCP&L to whittle their response time to 30 minutes or reimburse the town for the time emergency workers remain on the scene.
“Because apparatus can’t go into service if his (pointing to another committee member) house is on fire because we have to stare at your wires and a two-hour response time is unacceptable.
“There is no reason in the world you should tell people it’s going to take two hours to respond,’’ Newberry said.
Newberry finished by saying the company’s customer service was lacking and that people are beginning to turn against the utility.
“I find it personally insulting the way your company handles your customers, your commercial customers, your local volunteers,’’ Newberry said. “People are starting to realize that the Jersey Central of today is not the Jersey Central of yesterday and somebody should explain to, especially the volunteers, why their time is not as valuable as your time.’’