KIYC: Board of Public Utilities says it’s powerless to help family fighting JCP&L

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TOMS RIVER -

Nearly two months after they were featured in a Kane In Your Corner investigation, a couple from Toms River still has no idea whose $7,000 utility bill JCP&L forced them to pay, and the state Board of Public Utilities now says it’s powerless to find out.

JCP&L disconnected Steve and Judy Krugs’ power until they coughed up the money to pay the bill that was transferred from someone else’s account. The utility would not say whose, only that it involved “fraud.” 

The Krugs thought they’d get an explanation after they appeared in a Kane In Your Corner investigation into JCP&L’s alleged abuse of its fraud protection policy. JCP&L’s Tariff for Service says it can only transfer bills if “substantially the same household” tries to “circumvent payment,” which BPU defines as people who live together switching bills from one name to another. But public records show JCP&L routinely seems to overstep that authority, even disconnecting one ratepayer because he was buying a house from a woman whose husband was linked to an unpaid bill.

MORE: JCP&L turns off power to family with chronically ill mother
MORE: JCP&L customers say company is strong-arming them to pay fees
MORE: NJ BPU failed to adequately investigate JCP&L complaints

Following the investigation, BPU agreed to review the Krugs’ case, but the regulator has been unable even to get JCP&L to provide the name or address on the original account. Instead, it’s asked the Krugs to provide proof of residence since 2002 for both them and their adult daughter. “They're doing the same thing as JCP&L,” Judy Krug says. “You gotta prove this, you gotta prove that.”

New Jersey Rate Counsel Stefanie Brand says families like the Krugs should not have to prove their innocence. “Overall, the burden of proof is on the utility if they say you owe this money,” she says.

In a written statement, BPU says it is powerless to make JCP&L prove anything, suggesting the Krugs petition for a court hearing. "The role of the BPU is to facilitate an agreement between the utility and the customer,” BPU spokesman Peter Peretzman says. “If the BPU cannot facilitate an agreement between the parties, then the customer… has the right to file a formal petition with the Board…and the matter is then reviewed and transmitted to the Office of Administrative Law.”

That has Steve Krug baffled. “How are their hands tied?” he asks. “If you're the higher power and you're the Board of Public Utilities, how can you not get anywhere?”

There is good news for another customer featured in the investigation. After providing proof she had a different address, Angela O’Neil says she’s been told her late father’s $5,000 bill will be removed from her account.

“If it wasn't for you guys, none of this would've come to light,” O’Neil tells Kane In Your Corner. “My dad used to always say ‘What's done in the dark comes to the light.’ JCP&L kept going after people in the dark, and you brought it to light.”

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