Thursday, June 1, 2017

In surprise move, NJBPU holds off on two new rules

Agency decides not to move on regulations that would ease oversight of utility infrastructure investments, speed rate collection from customers

Tom Johnson reports for NJ Spotlight:
Richard Mroz, president of the state Board of Public Utilities
A state agency yesterday unexpectedly held off advancing a pair of controversial new rules that ease scrutiny over how New Jersey utilities make infrastructure investments and collect rates from customers.
In an otherwise routine monthly meeting, the state Board of Public Utilities decided to withhold action that would have allowed the rules to be published in the “New Jersey Register,” an important step in adopting new regulations in a lengthy administrative process.
That the agency already was moving the rules forward came as a surprise to consumer advocates, who only learned of the proposals at the BPU’s last meeting in April. They fear the proposed changes will weaken consumer protections and agency oversight.
The proposals, backed by the trade association representing the state’s utilities and some companies, expedite investments in upgrades to power grids. They stem from a couple of broadly written straw proposals drafted by the BPU staff and only circulating for a few weeks.

From out of nowhere

“It came out of nowhere. It was on the fast train express,’’ said Steven Goldenberg, an energy lawyer who follows the BPU closely.
The regulations reflect various proposals floated in recent months to overhaul how utilities are regulated given the fundamental changes underway in the energy sector. They also respond to pressure from regulators to make their delivery systems more reliable and resilient to extreme storms.
Nevertheless, that the straw proposals emerged as draft regulations so quickly came as a shock to those who also follow the agency, not widely regarded as acting swiftly on any issue.
For instance, clean-energy advocates have waited more than six years for the BPU to adopt a financing mechanism to promote offshore wind. No such rule is pending.
“It’s extremely quick,’’ noted the director of the Division of Rate Counsel Stefanie Brand, who opposes the two rules. “I don’t think it’s needed. We are not sure what problem they are trying to solve.’’

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