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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

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Dennis Opposes Rate Hike

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By Bill Barlow

DENNISVILLE – Atlantic City Electric (ACE) asked for a rate increase of $67 million to cover infrastructure improvements over the past two years.  

In December 2020, the company announced it requested approval for the hike from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU). If approved, it would mean the average customer would pay close to $10 more a month for power.  

“Rate adjustments, while never popular, are necessary to continue to deliver the reliable service our customers depend on now and have relied on throughout the pandemic,” reads a statement from the utility, sent by Jake Sneeden, a regional spokesman for Pepco Holdings, which owns ACE. “The proposed rate adjustment is directly related to the reliability improvements we’ve made over the last two years, modernizing the local energy grid with smarter technology and stronger infrastructure to meet customer needs and expectations.”  

Cape May County residents have likely seen some of the work underway, including replacing transmission lines crossing the Great Egg Harbor Bay, using helicopters to install new transmission lines leading from Middle Township to the Wildwoods over four miles of former railroad track crossing the marsh, a new substation on Elmira Street, in Cape May, and more.  

According to the utility, the work is needed to prepare for more serious flooding and damaging winds in the future.  

“Across our service area, we are continuing to see the impacts of more frequent and more severe weather driven by climate change,” reads a statement on the utility’s website, on a page detailing the projects. 

The BPU plans to hold two public comment hearings virtually, in March, but no dates have been determined. They are part of an evaluation process that is expected to take until October 2021. 

The public hearings are mentioned in an 800-plus-page filing on the rate increase proposal (https://bit.ly/37WmXi1), which also includes the email address for sending comments, located on page 170 of the filing. Comments may be emailed in a Microsoft Word or PDF format to board.secretary@bpu.nj.gov. 

Comments may also be mailed to board secretary Aida Camacho Welch, at the BPU, 44 South Clinton Ave., 9th Floor, P.O. Box 350, Trenton, NJ 08625-0350. 

The application will also be reviewed by the state Division of Rate Counsel, an independent advocate for ratepayers. 

If approved after the public comment period, the rate increase would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2022. ACE officials cite the pandemic’s ongoing economic impact in the hike’s delay 

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, ACE has helped thousands of customers manage their energy bills by providing tips and information about how to save energy and connecting customers with helpful state and federal energy assistance resources,” reads the statement released by Sneeden. “Tens of millions of dollars in energy assistance funding remains available for customers who may be struggling to pay their energy bill.” 

Those who need assistance should contact ACE, the statement advises.  

The proposed hike received some resistance. Dennis Township Committee unanimously approved a resolution Dec. 15, asking that the rate increase be rejected.  

According to Mayor Zeth Matalucci, the municipality does not object to the utility spending money on infrastructure, but, he said, he has not seen a benefit to his municipality.  

“It seems to me that we’ve been neglected by the power company for so long,” he said.  

He noted he joined with Sen. Michael Testa (R-1st) to meet with ACE officials but has seen little progress. After serious storms this past summer, he said, many Dennisville and Belleplain residents were without power for more than a week. That included his parents, he said.  

Residents lost hundreds of dollars’ worth of food with refrigerators down and those working remotely this year couldn’t 

“That’s just completely unacceptable,” Matalucci said. “They have no problem taking our money every month.” 

He added that limits to the grid, in Dennis Township, made it difficult for residents and the municipality to incorporate solar power, such as was planned for Township Hall.  

“We’re unhappy with the investment on the grid, and we’d like to see some improvements,” he said. “Where is all this money going?”  

Utility officials point to a continuing project to modernize the infrastructure in Middle and Dennis townships, including replacing a transmission line built in the 1970s. That project is expected to be completed in 2021.  

According to Sneeden, the grid was upgraded considerably since Hurricane Sandy slammed the region. In August, Tropical Storm Isaias hit hard, with punishing winds and a tornado that tore through Marmora. He said within 72 hours, there were fewer than 1,000 Cape May County customers without power, and the final customer’s power was restored within five days after the storm.  

He cited the improved equipment and the installation of state-of-the-art steel utility poles.  

In Middle Township, neighboring Dennis Township, Mayor Timothy Donohue said he has not heard much from the public about the proposed rate increase.  

The municipality is working with ACE on the final phase of a bike path set to connect the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal with the bike path, in Dennis Township, and much of Middle Township’s existing bike path runs along the utility’s right of way.  

“We have a good working relationship with ACE,” Donohue said.  

The area saw some of the company’s lowest number of power outages and their shortest duration, according to an ACE statement announcing the request for a rate increase.  

“With more working adults at home and school-aged children learning virtually, the need for reliable energy service is greater now, more than ever,” said Gary Stockbridge, ACE region president, as quoted in the statement. “The proposed rate adjustment is necessary to continue providing customers with the level of service they have relied on throughout the pandemic.  

“We understand the significant impacts this pandemic is having on our customers and communities, and we’re going to continue providing reliable service they can count on, assisting those who may be experiencing hardship, and helping create jobs and drive our region’s economic recovery.” 

The projects will improve the energy distribution system, substations and system-wide technology. Among the projects either completed or underway, a significant portion aims to improve power reliability to the barrier islands, including new systems to reduce outages in severe storms. That includes targeting repeatedly failing lines and replacing outdated equipment.  

The utility states outages are down 63% in the county over the last five years.  

According to ACE, the improvements will be stronger and smarter, using technology to improve system reliability.  

The same fact sheet states that 660 new solar customers were connected in 2019, with nearly 4,800 solar customers, in Cape May County.  

For residential customers using an average of 679 kilowatt-hours a month, the increase will mean spending 6.89% more, calculated at about $9.23.  

ACE serves 550,000 residential, commercial, and industrial customers, according to documents filed with the BPU.  

In 2016, Pepco Holdings merged with Exelon Corporation, one of the largest energy companies in the U.S., headquartered in Chicago and incorporated in Pennsylvania. 

To contact Bill Barlow, email bbarlow@cmcherald.com. 

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