Written by Keith Brown
Last year on this morning, millions of people woke up to no power, and many stayed that way for days and weeks.
Perhaps the only thing that attracted the wrath of Shore Area residents more than Superstorm Sandy is the power company that supplies electricity to more than a million customers in three counties.
Jersey Central Power & Light was roundly chastised for what critics said was poor storm preparation and for a glacier speed response time in repairing damage afterward.
Towns throughout the Jersey Shore began talk about leaving JCP&L entirely and choosing another provider. As recently as this month, the borough of Red Bank has made noise about possibly switching away from the state’s third largest utility.
But JCP&L representatives say they’ve taken lessons from their lumps after the storm, when about 1.2 million customers were left in the dark. Last week, the utility company announced a partnership with local electricians to put more boots on the ground when another large-scale event takes place.
“They will be our first responders,” said Jim Fakult, JCP&L president. “They will be our eyes and ears and they’ll help speed service restoration to our customers.”
Beginning next month, the utility will begin training union electricians from Local 400 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, based on Route 138 in Wall Township.
Local 400 has more than 700 members, mainly commercial electricians who work on major construction projects in Monmouth and Ocean counties. They will be trained in JCP&L’s processes, procedures and equipment.
The electricians will not work on power lines, officials said. Rather, they would identify problems in JCP&L’s infrastructure and protect the public from things like downed power lines. Local 400 electricians would then free up trained JCP&L linemen to do work on power lines, Fakult said.
The month-long training is optional for Local 400 members, but union officials said interest among the membership is high. Electricians who complete the training could be ready to hit the streets as early as January, Fakult said.
The move is the change at JCP&L and it was greeted with praise, but no small amount of skepticism from some local officials.
“Whatever they do, it certainly can’t be any worse,’’ said Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty. “Anything they do will be an improvement beyond what they did (in response to Sandy) and what they currently are doing.”
Doherty, who said the utility company had handled its response to Sandy “poorly,’’ also said he thought the new partnership was a good idea.
But while the latest JCP&L move was heartening, Doherty said there are still lingering problems from Sandy that the utility has not fixed. Doherty said he has been prodding JCP&L for a year about streetlights that are still nonfunctioning along Ocean Avenue, for instance.
“Clearly, we’re not happy about that,’’ Doherty said. “The fact that we have lights out one year after the storm is not acceptable.’’
Wall Township Mayor Todd Luttman said the latest move was “a step in the right direction.’’But Luttman said township officials still have long-term concerns about the Glendola substation, located near the Shark River. The substation, which powers hundreds of homes Wall and neighboring Neptune, flooded during Sandy, causing widespread power outages.
Luttman said township officials and JCP&L have continuing discussions about the substation and other concerns.
“We hope they’re listening,’’ Luttman said.