Judy Musa and Kin Gee are working to form an advocacy organization which protects electrical ratepayers in legislative discussions. The group, CHARGE, was formed from their volunteer work fighting a transmission line project over the last two years. Photo by Jay CookBy Jay Cook |MIDDLETOWN – There are public policy programs for fresher air and cleaner drinking water, but a new advocacy group believes the focus should also be on larger issues in the electrical utility industry.It’s why a small group of Monmouth County residents have teamed up to give a voice to electrical consumers who suffer when the power shuts off and the lights don’t turn back on. Their new organization, Consumers Helping Affect Regulation of Gas and Electric (CHARGE), plans to jolt public utilities into more proactivity and transparency on the local service level.“There’s really little consumer voice in terms of public policy for the distribution system and the regulation of that,” CHARGE president Kin Gee, a Holmdel resident, told The Two River Times this week. “What we want to do is be the consumer advocate to make sure those issues are brought to light for education and to bring awareness.”Gee, a semi-retired risk management consultant, and board secretary Judy Musa, a public relations professional, are no strangers to the electrical industry. They successfully anchored the residents group Residents Against Giant Electric during a two-year legal battle fighting Jersey Central Power & Light’s (JCP&L) Monmouth County Reliability Project, a proposed 230-kV transmission line from Aberdeen to Red Bank along the NJ Transit North Jersey Coast Line commuter rail right-of-way. The project was shot down by BPU officials in June.That experience provided Gee and Musa with two years’ worth of background about how the electrical industry operates throughout New Jersey.“These problems are symptoms of a bigger issue – the neglect of the whole distribution system,” Gee said. “We need to have that system fixed because it’s broken. Unless someone comes in, this will go on for years.”The group has already been active on the state level as it works to secure nonprofit status. Gee has testified before the New Jersey Legislature on public utility business practices and reliability standards across the board in the past year.The most common problems are caused by the distribution lines looping down streets and along highways, he said. Wooden poles along roadways are usually the culprits when stormy weather causes power outages.“The service is the part that’s falling apart,” Musa. “And at the end of the day, we’re the ones who sit in the dark waiting for them to turn the lights on.”Gee is also bothered by the discrepancy between what ratepayers pay to the utility companies and the level of performance that’s reciprocated. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, New Jersey typically has among the top 10 highest electricity prices in the country. But a June 2017 report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found New Jersey’s two largest utilities to be in the bottom half nationwide in terms of service.“There are rates paid and with those rates are certain expectations,” Musa added. “Those are not being met.”Thanks to a wave of two intense winter storms earlier this year, public utilities were put in the spotlight for their business practices. Winter storms Quinn and Riley knocked out power to over 100,000 New Jersey residents during that brief span in March.Gee testified in April on behalf of ratepayers to the economic growth committee of the state Senate during hearings on implementing stricter fines for public utilities for service failures doing major storms. Fines were bumped up from $100 per day to $25,000 per violation.On a local level, Monmouth County residents receive electrical service from JCP&L, a subsidiary of the Ohio-based FirstEnergy organization.And Monmouth County felt the effect of those winter storms. Monmouth County Freeholder Patrick Impreveduto sent a letter to the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) in May asking for meetings with JCP&L to discuss “their outdated infrastructure that is negatively impacting the lives of thousands of taxpayers throughout New Jersey.”Last month, JCP&L took a step forward in addressing “reliability and resiliency” to its distribution system when it announced a nearly $400 million plan, JCP&L Reliability Plus, to protect the local distribution systems from severe weather and the frequency of power outages.That project includes over 4,000 enhancements to underground and aboveground lines as well as more vegetation management locally. Still in the petition phase, the utility proposed a 25-cent increase to ratepayers.“The special focus of this program is to limit damage during severe weather events,” JCP&L president Jim Fakult said in a statement. “The new equipment, along with enhanced vegetation management, builds on our ongoing efforts to ensure customer service reliability and resiliency.”Although CHARGE has taken no official position yet, Gee said he is still skeptical. Sure, improvements are positive, but he argued the project’s need. Existing management practices in place should already address those issues.A Sept. 11 public meeting in Holmdel has been set to discuss the JCP&L Reliability Plus project.This article was first published in the August 16-23, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
ARCADIA, Calif. (March 18, 2017)–Challenged from the opening bell, Argentine-bred Vale Dori repelled a serious challenge from Finest City to take Saturday’s Grade I, $400,000 Santa Margarita Stakes by 1 ½ lengths under Rafael Bejarano. Trained by Bob Baffert, Vale Dori made every pole a winning one as she got a mile and one eighth in 1:48.81.Breaking from post position two in a field of eight older fillies and mares, Vale Dori had a neck on Finest City a half mile from home and finally shook loose approaching the sixteenth pole.“Today was the first time I think that she was pressured almost the whole race,” said Bejarano. “She showed me a lot of power, a lot of heart. I don’t think she minds coming from behind, but having a clean break, I just took it from there.”A winner of five straight races, the last four graded stakes, Vale Dori, a 5-year-old mare who was a Group I winner in her native Argentina at age three, was off as the 6-5 favorite and paid $4.60, $2.60 and $2.60.Owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum, she is now 13-8-3-1 and with the winner’s share of $240,000, she increased her earnings to $934,943.Finest City, America’s reigning Eclipse Champion Female Sprinter, who finished some 9 ½ lengths clear of Autumn Flower, was stretching out off a big win here in the Grade II, seven furlong Santa Monica Stakes on Jan. 21, which followed her signature moment in winning the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint two starts back on Nov. 5.“She ran great,” said Baze, who was aboard for the first time as regular rider Mike Smith was out of town to ride at Oaklawn Park. “This is probably a little too far for her but she ran really well. I give the winner credit, she’d never been headed before and we were head and head the whole way.”The second choice at 8-5, Finest City paid $3.00 and $2.80.“My filly ran her eyeballs out,” said Kruljac. “Running second in a Grade I isn’t all bad. I’m happy with how she ran.”Ridden by Martin Pedroza, Autumn Flower held off Lady Tapit by a head for third money. The longest shot in the field at 59-1, Autumn Flower paid $10.20 to show.Fractions on the race were 23.50, 48.23, 1:12.21 and 1:36.37.Note: Bob Baffert was away, en route to Dubai, while his primary assistant, Jimmy Barnes was at Oaklawn Park. Vale Dori was saddled today by Baffert assistant, Mike Marlow.