After tropical storm Isaias slammed New Jersey earlier this month, 1.4 million customers were left in the dark without power.

That has prompted a lot of talk about the need to strengthen the electric grid, and speed up installation of so-called smart meters that use advanced metering infrastructure, or AMI.

New Jersey’s smallest utility, Rockland Electric, has already installed 74,000 smart meters for its customers. The state’s other utilities must present smart meter plans to the Board of Public Utilities by the end of this week.

According to BPU president Joe Fiordaliso, those plans will be carefully studied to determine whether installing smart meters statewide makes sense.

He said while smart meters with AMI can automatically let utilities know when power has been lost during a storm, it is unclear whether they will actually speed up repairs and get customers reconnected more quickly.

“It’s something we here in New Jersey are looking at, and really have made no determination as to what direction we want to go," Fiordaliso said.

He said installing smart meters statewide will be an extremely expensive proposition, costing New Jerseyans hundreds of millions of dollars — so “it could be quite a way down the road before we make any decision and then determine what direction exactly we want to go.”

He said while smart meters do help customers figure out how to maximize energy efficiency, which will save people money, there will still be power outages after big storms, and utility crews will still how to go out and reconnect downed lines.

“Unfortunately, regardless of what kind of meters we have, we’re never going to eliminate outages,” he said.

Fiordaliso said ever since Superstorm Sandy, the electric infrastructure in New Jersey has been upgraded, and while outages may still occur, more people get reconnected more quickly than they did in the past.

He said a strong infrastructure “whether we’re talking about electricity, whether we’re talking about water, whether we’re talking about anything is so vital to a progressive economy.”

The BPU will hold public hearings on proposals to install smart meters before any action is taken.

“We really get that input as we listen to people, as we listen to stakeholders, as we listen to citizens like you and me,” he said.

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