KIYC: JCP&L turns off power to family with chronically ill mother

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Three weeks after a Kane In Your Corner investigation into alleged abuse of power, JCP&L has still not explained whose huge bill it forced a Toms River family to pay. And Wednesday, the utility plunged another family featured in the investigation into darkness, a move the New Jersey Rate Counsel believes was unlawful.

Angela O’Neil says she was preparing dinner in her Keansburg apartment Wednesday afternoon when JCP&L cut the power without warning. Her chronically ill mother was in the middle of a breathing treatment when it happened.

O’Neil says she tried to get the attention of the JCP&L technician. “I was like ‘my mom is on her oxygen, she needs her oxygen’,” O’Neil says. “He turned around and walked away from me. Like I was nobody. Like I did not exist.”

The disconnect may not have been legal because O’Neil is in the midst of disputing her bill with the state Board of Public Utilities. Kane In Your Corner contacted BPU and O’Neil’s power was restored after about eight hours.

JCP&L spokesman Ron Morano insists the utility broke no rules in disconnecting the O’Neils and even mailed them a disconnect notice in advance. 

New Jersey Rate Counsel Stefanie Brand strongly disagrees. “The regulations say once somebody disputes a bill, whether formally or informally, then collection activities and disconnections have to stop,” Brand says. “I’m glad she’s been reconnected, but there’s really no question that she never should have been disconnected in the first place.”

The O’Neils were one of the families featured in a recent Kane In Your Corner investigation into JCP&L’s controversial practice of transferring balances from one customer to another. The utility held Angela O’Neil accountable for an approximately $9,000 bill belonging to her late father. A BPU spokesman says the agency is finishing its “informal review” of the case and does not think it will be able to help O’Neil, unless she can provide proof she lived somewhere other than with her parents. Brand contends ratepayers should not have to prove anything, and says utility companies should bear the burden of proof.

Meantime, after three weeks, there are still no answers for the Krug family of Toms River. They paid about $7,000 to get their power turned back on after someone’s bill was transferred to them. They say they still have no idea whose bill it was, or why JCP&L thought they were responsible. After demanding an explanation two weeks ago, it appears BPU still doesn’t know either.

“The review of the Krug case is still ongoing,” BPU spokesperson Peter Peretzman says. “We requested information from JCP&L and we are waiting to hear back from them.”

BPU says when it receives informal complaints it attempts to reach amicable resolutions between the customer and utility. If customers are still unhappy, they can file formal complaints, which are adjudicated before an administrative law judge.

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