Trenton – Legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz and signed into law today will bolster consumer protections and make New Jersey a nationwide leader in public and private utility transparency.
“These issues have always existed, but they have been compounded and brought to light by the realities of the pandemic. It is critical that both regulated and nonregulated utilities are transparent about how COVID-19 has impacted payments, rate increases, grants, and services,” said Senator Ruiz. “This legislation will bolster consumer protections and allow us to keep track of how rate increases are impacting families around the state so we can identify any policy gaps that need to be addressed.”
The law, formerly S-994, requires the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to collect and post certain data outlining the number of total customers, how many applied for and how many received financial assistance, how many were charged late fees or disconnected, and differences in average and median bills from year to year quarterly, for the next two years.
The BPU, in consultation with the Department of Community Affairs, is also required to prepare and submit a final written report 30 months following enactment containing findings and recommendations concerning the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on local utility and public utility service to commercial and residential customers in the state.
“This law will reveal the full extent of New Jersey’s water affordability challenges, a critical step toward ensuring everyone has access to safe, affordable water service,” said Larry Levine, Director of Urban Water Infrastructure and Senior Attorney at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “New Jersey now has the nation’s strongest transparency requirements concerning affordable access to essential water, sewer, and energy utility service. We’ll be able to see where people struggle to afford utility bills and suffer devastating impacts like shutoffs and tax liens. That’s essential to crafting comprehensive solutions – especially now, as we confront the massive need to invest in water infrastructure without burdening those least able to pay.”
“Utility services – electric, gas and water – are lifeline services necessary for basic health and safety,” said Evelyn Liebman, AARP NJ Director of Advocacy. “We applaud the leadership of Governor Murphy, Senate Majority Leader Ruiz and Chairwoman McKnight, and all who supported this legislation that will provide critical information necessary to fully understand the impact of the pandemic on our residents’ ability to afford these services. The information that will now be reported by utility companies can guide policy makers in the development of programs that ensure utilities are affordable and everyone can keep their lights on, the water running and heat their homes. With close to one million utility consumers still in arrears and energy prices soaring, the information is needed now more than ever.”
“Thanks to the leadership of Governor Murphy, Senate Majority Leader Ruiz and Chairwoman McKnight, this bill represents a major step forward for low-income utility customers,” said David McMillin, Chief Attorney at Legal Services of New Jersey (LSNJ). “Reliable information on the number of customers facing payment challenges, their location, and the extent to which utility assistance programs are achieving their goals and preventing loss of crucial utility services will be a tremendous benefit to New Jerseyans for years to come.”