Ocean County Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari says New Jersey doesn’t need a state Board of Public Utilities, but instead could benefit from a consumer advocate.
Vicari’s opposition to the agency came out this week after Gov. Chris Christie late last month appointed close ally Dianne Solomon, of Haddonfield, Camden County, as a BPU commissioner, with a salary of $140,000.
This week, Vicari balked at Solomon’s salary and questioned whether such compensation was necessary for the position. Vicari also alleged political favors and abuse as the possible motive for Solomon’s appointment.
Solomon is the wife of Superior Court Judge Lee Solomon, who in 2010 and 2011 was Christie’s choice to head the BPU. Judge Solomon, a longtime Christie ally, was in the running for a nomination to the state Supreme Court but did not receive the appointment from Christie.
Dianne Solomon served on Christie’s transition team and is a commissioner on the South Jersey Transportation Authority.
Vicari, who serves as chairman of the Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs, said for years he has advocated for Ocean County representation on the BPU, to no avail. Now, instead of that push, he said, the BPU doesn’t need to exist at all. The agency is an example of an entity that really does nothing for the people who are paying the utility companies, Vicari said.
“Maybe it is time to ask our citizens if the state Board of Public Utilities should be abolished. I think this should be something that is closely studied and then placed on the ballot for our citizens to determine,” said Vicari, who has been a staunch opponent of utility companies, particularly following their push to raise rates after disasters, including Hurricane Sandy.
“And yet, the BPU, the regulatory board overseeing these utilities, doesn’t seem to have a problem with rate increases while citizens remain displaced, while families are living apart, all while their homes are in disrepair,” Vicari said.
Vicari said consumers in New Jersey would be better served by a utility consumer advocate charged to represent the interests of utility consumers.
The BPU has the authority to oversee the regulated utilities that provide natural gas, electricity, water, telecommunications and cable television. According to their website, the law requires that the BPU ensures “safe, adequate, and proper utility services at reasonable rates for customers in New Jersey.”
But Vicari said that is not happening.
“We need better representation for our consumers who seem to be at the mercy of the utility companies,” Vicari said. “We are not getting this representation from the BPU.”
Contact Donna Weaver:
Follow on Twitter donnaKWeaver