Last year, a tropical storm and a freak October ice storm hit the Garden State causing lengthy power outages that displaced thousands of New Jerseyans for days on end, some for more than a week.

Wednesday afternoon, Governor Chris Christie proposed legislation aimed at providing for increased penalties and preparedness requirements for public utilities to meet customer needs during outages and emergencies.

“The storms of 2011 posed serious, unprecedented challenges for our utility providers, infrastructure, and families and businesses who depend on their electricity service,” explains Christie. “While those storms brought out the courage and professionalism of public utility employees from inside and outside of our state, they also exposed the vulnerabilities of our utility infrastructure and avoidable mistakes.”

REPORT: BPU Report

Under the proposed legislation, civil administrative penalties will be changed from a maximum daily assessment of $100 under current law to $25,000, with a maximum of $2 million in penalties for any series of violations related to a particular event. Public utilities would be barred from passing on the cost of these penalties to ratepayers.

The legislation also prioritizes the importance of preparedness and reliability standards in responding to emergencies that threaten service delivery, by putting in place aggressive planning requirements for public utilities for service reliability and strategic communications in an emergency in the form of an annually submitted plan, as well as requiring the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to develop and enforce performance benchmarks for service reliability, service disruption preparedness, service restoration, and communications for electric distribution companies doing business in the State.

The proposal also grants BPU investigative authority to review public utility performance during an outage and, if found to be failing in implementing its reliability plan, impose civil administrative penalties.