South Jersey electricity users, who just started paying for last year’s Tropical Storm Irene, may see Hurricane Sandy’s toll on utility bills sometime next year or later.

This month, Atlantic City Electric began collecting $7.7 million from customers over a three-year period due to Irene, which knocked out power to more than 100,000 people in the region in August 2011.

Sandy was more destructive, although its cost has not yet been tallied.

Atlantic City Electric replaced 106 poles and 205 transformers after Sandy, compared to 49 poles and 100 transformers from Irene, spokesman Frank Tedesco said.

Electric officials said it may take a month to assess the storm’s costs for the utility, from increased manpower and materials to running an incident command center.

New Jersey investor-owned utilities, which include electric and natural gas companies, can ask the state Board of Public Utilities to pass on some storm-related expenses to customers, a process that can take a year or longer as part of traditional rate cases.

When utility rates are set, they include anticipated storm costs based on an average of the previous three to five years, said Stefanie Brand, director of the state Division of Rate Counsel, which represents utility customers.

But some severe storms — especially Irene — have involved extraordinary damage and prompted electric utilities to seek to recover more extreme weather expenses, she said. Brand expects more due to Sandy.

“Right now, Irene’s not looking so bad. This is unprecedented,” Brand said. “I think we’re going to have to figure out a way to make sure it doesn’t have too large a rate impact because the very same people who will have to pay for that are the very same people who were the victims of the storm.”

Greg Reinert, spokesman for the BPU, said New Jersey utilities have not submitted any cost assessments from Sandy and likely will not for a while.

Rate increase requests are reviewed by the BPU and the Division of Rate Counsel.

As for natural gas utilities, a spokesman for Folsom-based South Jersey Gas said the storm will have no impact on future rates.

“Our work has primarily centered on restoration due to water intrusion from flooding but not any significant damage to our infrastructure,” said spokesman Dan Lockwood, who categorized the damage as minor. South Jersey Gas covers seven counties, including Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland.

Wall-based New Jersey Natural Gas, which serves Ocean County, is dealing with more damage.

Spokesman Michael Kinney said the utility has no cost estimates yet on damage, including to some of its hardest-hit areas on Long Beach Island.

“Right now our focus is on the restoration of our service. So what the future impact will be we won’t be able to estimate until the work is under way,” he said.

The company had shut off service to Long Beach Island following infrastructure damage from Sandy.

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