The Board of Public Utilities Keeping the Lights (and Everything Else) On

The Board of Public Utilities (BPU) is a regulatory authority in New Jersey with a statutory mandate to ensure safe, adequate, and proper utility services at reasonable rates for state residents. The BPU has jurisdiction to regulate the rates and facilities of electric, gas, water, wastewater, telephone, and cable television companies throughout New Jersey.

The board also addresses current issues of energy reform, the deregulation of energy and telecommunications services, and utility rate restructuring to encourage energy conservation. In addition, the BPU is responsible for monitoring utility service and responding to consumer complaints and is working to foster competitive pricing, innovation and consumer choice in the telecommunications and energy industries.

A Long History of Service

The Department of Public Utilities, the predecessor to the BPU, was created in 1911 to address issues of essential services in the state of New Jersey—specifically railroads and interstate commerce. Since its inception, the BPU has been given broad authority to perform management audits, investigate utility companies with questionable practices, appraise and value utilities' property, approve rates, and institute fees. One of the initial reasons for the board's extensive authority was to moderate the effects of monopoly enterprises within the industry.

Since its creation, the BPU has undergone various restructurings. In 1977, the board was placed within the Department of Environmental Protection and Energy, and in 1994, it was moved to the Department of Treasury and officially renamed the Board of Public Utilities (BPU), replacing the previous title the Board of Regulatory Commissioners (BRC). As part of the 1994 reorganization, the Department of the Public Advocate was eliminated and the Division of the Ratepayer Advocate—which represents the interest of ratepayers before decision-making bodies—was transferred to the BPU, although it remains independent of board control or supervision.

BPU Programs

The programs offered to New Jersey residents by the BPU include electric, gas, water, wastewater, telephone, and cable television, though at the present time, the board is focusing more on energy assistance and conservation programs. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (www.acf.dhhs .gov/programs/liheap) is a federally funded program that provides subsidies every winter to help low-income families pay heating costs, such as home oil, natural gas, electric heating, propane and kerosene. Another program is the New Jersey Statewide Heating Assistance and Referral Energy Service, Inc. (www.njshares.org). NJShares is a non-profit corporation that provides assistance to New Jersey residents who are in financial crisis and need temporary help in paying their energy bills.

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