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The Board of Public Utilities (“Board”) is the state agency with authority to oversee the regulated utilities, which in turn provide critical services such as natural gas, electricity, water, telecommunications and cable television. The law requires the Board to ensure safe, adequate, and proper utility services at reasonable rates for customers in New Jersey. The Board addresses issues of consumer protection, energy reform, deregulation of energy and telecommunications services and the restructuring of utility rates to encourage energy conservation and competitive pricing in the industry. The Board also has responsibility for monitoring utility service and responding to consumer complaints.
The Board is considered a quasi-judicial body, meaning that it functions similar to a court or judge. Anyone may file a petition (or a request for action) asking the Board to consider a matter within its jurisdiction. Most often petitions are filed by the utilities, ratepayers or interested parties, but there are times when the Board will initiate a matter on its own.
Once a petition is filed, the Board decides if it will retain the matter (which will become a case) or send the petition to the Office of Administrative Law (“OAL”). If the case is sent to the OAL, a judge will make an initial decision that the Board will ultimately accept, reject, or change. Regardless of whether the case is sent to the OAL or retained by the Board, the case goes through a legal process which may involve public hearings, briefs, discovery, and testimony. The parties involved include the petitioner, the Board’s staff, and often the Division of Rate Counsel (the state entity charged with representing the ratepayers and consumers of New Jersey). Others may ask to be involved as an intervener or a participant, but those parties must meet certain standards provided in the regulations (N.J.A.C. 1:1-16.3) to be granted that status.
Members of the public are invited to voice their opinions at public hearings. Public hearings are listed on the Board’s website and notices of these hearings appear in newspapers. All evidence and arguments, and comments provided at the public hearings are made part of the record to ensure that the OAL judge and/or the Board is making an informed and impartial decision based upon the facts as presented by both sides. It is important that the public provide its input at the public hearings to ensure these comments are included in the record of the case.
The case is then decided by the Board at one of its public agenda meetings. The Board will issue an order setting forth the reason for its decision. The Board’s decision may be appealed to the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court.