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DeAngelo Bill to Prevent Power Outages Caused by Downed Trees Continues to Advance

Prompted by severe storms last March which left New Jersey residents without power for days on end, a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo that would create a vegetation maintenance plan to protect energy infrastructure was cleared by an Assembly panel on Monday. In March, a series of severe nor'easters caused power outages that impacted over 1.2 million electric utility customers. Some were without power for up to 11 days, despite response and recovery efforts by utility companies. Uprooted trees and toppled branches falling on power lines were part of what caused the extensive outages. "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 a public utility to use all available methods to protect power lines, including clearing, moving, cutting or destroying vegetation. It also permits utilities to work with municipalities to develop effective maintenance strategies. Dangerous vegetation that may require maintenance includes trees, shrubs, plants or other vegetation growing in, near or adjacent to an electric distribution system that may affect or interfere with a power line, as determined by the utility or local government. "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." Under the bill, the Community Forestry Council nor any county or municipal shade trade commission cannot restrict or interfere with removal, replacement or maintenance of dangerous vegetation by a utility. Utilities are not required to receive permission from those entities to conduct such work and are not subject to penalties as provided by law. However, utilities or cable television companies are not exempt from penalties or replacement assessments imposed as a result of damage to vegetation caused by non-compliance with a rule or regulation of a county or municipal shade tree commission, provided such rule does not interfere with vegetation maintenance done to comply with federal law or regulation, national standard, or order of the board applicable to a utility or cable television company. The bill was approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee; it now goes to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration. The bill, which cleared the Assembly Telecommunications Committee in September, was approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee; it now goes to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.

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