Vernon Township Council Discusses Electric Grid Upgrades and Emergency Medical Services Merger

In a recent Vernon Town Council meeting, the most discussions centered on Jersey Central Power and Light’s (JCP&L) ambitious Energize NJ program and the merger of local emergency medical services. The $935 million Energize NJ program, presented by JCP&L representative Richard Bizz, seeks to enhance the electric grid’s reliability and performance through significant infrastructure investments, including grid modernization and the introduction of smart meters. Additionally, Ken Clark, the OEM coordinator, and Kevin Duffy, COO, discussed the merger of Vernon First Aid Squad and Glenwood Pochuck Ambulance Corps to form Vernon Emergency Medical Services (EMS).

The JCP&L presentation covered the Energize NJ program’s three main components: grid modernization, system resiliency, and substation modernization. The council was particularly interested in the grid modernization efforts, which involve upgrading over 600 miles of overhead power lines and replacing aged underground lines. The introduction of 2,175 trip saver devices was also notable, designed to automatically restore power after outages and isolate damage, with an emphasis on areas with historical outage patterns.

System resiliency, with a proposed budget of $469 million, would focus on rapid damage recovery and increased equipment automation to expedite power restoration after severe weather events. This includes eliminating 4-kilovolt pockets and upgrading them to 12.5 kilovolts to support faster restoration and accommodate additional energy resources like solar developments and electric vehicles. Substation modernization, with a $100 million budget, aims to enhance equipment and improve remote access and automation capabilities.

The program is under review by the Board of Public Utilities (BPU), with financial figures presented as estimates. Bizz requested public support from municipalities, including Vernon Township, in the form of a letter of support or a resolution. Council members probed into the specific benefits for Vernon residents and the potential impacts on local infrastructure, showing a mix of intrigue and desire for more detailed information.

The council engaged in a discussion on the potential impact on customers and the expected rate increases. The program is projected to yield a $3.08 billion return in reliability benefits over five years, with a typical residential customer’s monthly electric bill increasing by $416 over the term. Rate increases would be incremental, beginning with a 54-cent rise effective April 1st, 2025.

Technical aspects such as the installation of trip savers to reduce outages and improve power restoration were also debated. The council members recognized the benefits of the previous “reliability plus” program and sought to understand how the new program would build upon these improvements. The introduction of smart meters and their installation process was discussed, with an emphasis on the minimal impact on customers and the real-time usage data they would provide.

The council addressed the electric distribution company’s relationship with the township, acknowledging past challenges but expressing confidence in the proposed program’s ability to improve outage response and power restoration. The uniformity of rates and customers’ ability to choose their power supplier was also a topic of discussion.

Moving on to the topic of emergency medical services, the merger of Vernon First Aid Squad and Glenwood Pochuck Ambulance Corps was presented by Ken Clark and Kevin Duffy. They discussed the expected improvements in EMS coverage and the consolidation of equipment and finances. The Council assured continued support for Vernon EMS, both in terms of finances and assistance with vehicles.

Mayor Rossi commended the efforts of the EMS representatives and highlighted the collaborative approach taken by the new administration for shared services. He clarified that discussions on shared services were not related to educational cost savings but aimed at reducing spending and providing better services, including addressing infrastructure issues such as collapsing catch basins.

Councilman Rizzuto brought up the Department of Public Works’ response to infrastructure concerns, praising their efficiency and discussing plans for shared services with the Board of Education. He outlined potential cost savings and improvements in services, such as snow plowing, street sweeping, and vehicle maintenance. Rizzuto also mentioned ongoing discussions about converting schools to natural gas.

During the public comment period, a resident raised concerns about the Cannabis ordinance and the elimination of police background checks for applicants. Rizzuto clarified that background checks would be conducted by state police, and the township’s role in issuing cannabis licenses was limited by state regulations.

The council reviewed expenses related to snow removal and the community garden, with assurance from the township CFO that funds were covered by a budget and a specific trust account. The council also discussed various resolutions, including support for an adult-use cannabis retailer license, a change in address for a wellness facility, and authorization of fireworks for the Special Olympics. Additionally, the council considered a grant application to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs and a memorandum of understanding to enhance the response to behavioral health crises.

Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.
Anthony Rossi
City Council Officials:
Patrick Rizzuto, Natalie Buccieri, Bradley Sparta, Jessica DeBenedetto, William Higgins

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