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NJ Deregulation Stumbles In Legislature

January 18, 1999
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NJ Deregulation Stumbles In Legislature

Uncertainty over the treatment of municipal aggregation in New Jersey's energy deregulation legislation caused the state's restructuring bill to be bounced back and forth several times last week between the general assembly and senate, resulting in at least a two-week delay before a final decision. The restructuring bill provides strict deadlines of Aug. 1 for statewide electric utility generation unbundling, and Dec. 31 for statewide gas utility supply unbundling. It is being reviewed by the assembly at the present time, and the next available voting session will take place Jan. 28.

Each state house took a different view on how the 566 state municipalities would select an energy supplier under the new bill. The senate passed the bill last Tuesday, requiring a majority vote by municipality leadership for selection of an energy supplier. The bill included an "opt-out" clause that stipulates residents must notify the municipality if they do not want to use the supplier the municipality picked.

The assembly, however, voted to amend the bill, requiring a municipality to hold a referendum in order to select a supplier, and also maintain the "opt out" clause. "Our position is that we don't want to hinder anybody's right to choose," said Michelle Giles, spokeswoman for the assembly majority. "We feel that referendum is the best way to decide municipal selection."

The senate rejected the amended version and sent the bill back to the assembly. The next voting session is not for two weeks.

Despite the disagreement, Rae Hutton, senate majority spokesperson, said, "This is not a contentious issue. There is consensus in both houses and in both parties that energy deregulation will lower rates. We're 98% there. It's going to be a continuing effort, but I don't think this delay will have too much effect on the bill's start-up dates."

Giles had a different view. "Both sides do want deregulation, but the assembly is very dedicated on pushing the referendum through. We'll just have to wait to see what happens."

John Norris

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