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DeAngelo Bill to Prevent Power Outages Caused by Downed Trees Advances in Assembly; Affects 1.2 Mill

In light of severe storms last March prompting power outages and causing damage to utility poles throughout the state, an Assembly panel approved legislation Assembly Democrat Wayne DeAngelo sponsored to develop a plan for tree trimming and vegetation maintenance. Last March, New Jersey was struck by a series of severe weather events that impacted more than 1.2 million electric utility customers, leaving some without power for up to 11 days, and causing millions of dollars in property damages. The frequent storms presented response and recovery challenges to each electric distribution company in the state. Some of the extended power outages occurred because power lines were damaged by uprooted trees and toppled branches. "Sometimes storm damage is unfortunately unavoidable, but we saw many instances with Sandy in which a single tree branch too close to a power line caused headaches for consumers for days and even weeks," said DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "With improved communications among the groups tasked with caring for our trees and for our energy systems, we can and should do better. This bill is sensible." The bill (A-2558) authorizes an electric public utility to utilize all available methods, including clearing, moving, cutting, or destroying vegetation to protect power lines. It also allows them to establish a program with a municipality to develop effective strategies to implement the provisions of this bill. Dangerous vegetation is defined to mean a tree, shrub, plant or any other vegetation growing in, near, or adjacent to the electric public utility's right of way and the electric distribution and transmission system that may fall into, touch, affect, or otherwise interfere with an electrical distribution line, as determined by the electric public utility or local government entity having control of the right-of-way. "The commissions would consult with the utilities for the purpose of developing plans to protect the electric distribution infrastructure from damage caused by trees, shrubs or the like," DeAngelo said. "We can't do everything to prevent storm damage but we can do what's smart to protect our energy infrastructure. Making sure our trees and shrubs are properly maintained around energy infrastructure is quite simply common sense." The measure provides that the neither the Community Forestry Council nor any county or municipal shade tree commission interfere with or restrict an electric public utility's removal, replacement or maintenance of dangerous vegetation. The bill an electric public utility or cable television company is not required to receive the permission of any county or municipal shade tree commission to undertake such work and is not subject to any penalty imposed by any commission as provided by law. Under the bill, an electric public utility or cable television company is not exempt from any penalty or replacement assessment imposed as a result of damage to a tree, shrub, or plant caused by non-compliance with any such rule or regulation of a county or municipal shade tree commission, provided that such rule or regulation does not interfere with or restrict any vegetation management work conducted by the electric public utility or cable television company to comply with any federal rule, regulation, or law, any vegetation management rule, regulation, or order of the board, or any national or federal standard applicable to a public utility or cable television company. The bill was released by Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee.

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