On appeal from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, Docket No. EC06020077U.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: November 15, 2010
Before Judges Grall and C.L. Miniman.
Petitioner William Taylor appeals from an order denying his motion for reconsideration of a final decision and order issued by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) concerning his allegations that respondent Jersey Central Power & Light Company (JCP&L) was supplying low voltage electricity to his residence. We now affirm.
Taylor first contacted JCP&L in April 1998 with a complaint of a sudden increase in electric usage at his residence. Taylor informed JCP&L that a trench had been dug in his front yard, but he did not know who was responsible for it. Between 1999 and 2002, JCP&L responded to several additional complaints, changed the electric meter, and ran multiple tests but did not uncover any voltage problems. JCP&L advised Taylor to hire an electrician to test his internal wiring. Sometime in or around the spring of 2002, JCP&L suspended collection activities, which had commenced due to Taylor's outstanding account balance, pending an investigation into Taylor's claims of "inadequate electricity." In or around July 2002, Taylor began withholding all payments.
On November 15, 2002, Taylor sent an informal notice of complaint to JCP&L pertaining to his residence. Taylor asserted that in April 2002, JCP&L twice investigated his complaints of inadequate electricity. He maintained that low voltage affected the operation of his air conditioner, ceiling fans, microwave, and televisions. Taylor urged that, although his complaints resulted in the generation of many work orders, nothing had been done to remedy the electricity problems. He contended that the low voltage produced an "excessive electricity draw" and resulted in over-billing and that his payments to JCP&L were "on hold pending resolution." Taylor's billing dispute with JCP&L spanned several years, and, in March 2005, he filed an informal complaint with the BPU, which was forwarded to JCP&L's engineering department for further review.
On June 8, 2005, JCP&L's Distribution Specialist wrote to Taylor summarizing JCP&L's investigation in response to his complaints. This letter indicated that JCP&L had worked with Taylor on several occasions to troubleshoot his situation, perform tests, and discuss its findings. Recording voltmeter data retrieved during April 2005 had not uncovered any voltage irregularities. Further, JCP&L installed a new transformer in May 2005, "increasing the capacity of the unit from 25 [kilovolt-amperes (KVA) to 50 KVA]." A search of JCP&L's database also revealed that no other customers served by the same transformer had experienced any voltage problems. The letter further indicated that JCP&L would conduct another test during July 2005 "when the electric energy demand increases because of the warmer summer weather . . . to insure [sic] that [its] system continues to operate within the proper voltage guidelines." Finally, the letter advised that at the end of July 2005, "bill collection activity will resume."
On December 21, 2005, Taylor submitted a petition for a formal hearing with the BPU pertaining to these claims. His petition chronicled a history of problems beginning in June 1998 "when [his] electricity bill precipitously more than doubled after 20 years of stability." He alleged that, although JCP&L had "made some equipment changes (after 7 years of complaints)," his low voltage problem persisted. Although he had made payments to JCP&L to bring his account current in the past, he contended that JCP&L failed to address his problems unless he withheld payments.
JCP&L filed an answer on March 10, 2006. It recounted its efforts to resolve Taylor's complaints spanning several years and asserted that Taylor had not made any payments since August 2004. It sought an order by the BPU "acknowledging that [Taylor] is responsible for payment for electric service . . . and directing [Taylor] to pay . . . the total amount currently past due and owing."
The BPU transferred the matter to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) on August 10, 2007, for a hearing and initial disposition as a contested case. A hearing before the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) was held on April 11, 2008. Taylor appeared pro se and testified on his own behalf, and JCP&L called six witnesses. Both parties submitted numerous exhibits. The ALJ noted that there was "an off the record discussion to focus on what [was] being litigated." He indicated that he would hear testimony regarding the billing dispute, Taylor's allegations concerning voltage issues, and the reason why he withheld payment.
Taylor first testified about "the inception of the problem" in April 1998. He presented two timeline documents that he had prepared as exhibits, one of which showed his energy usage and billing from 1993 to the present. He testified that the amount of monthly kilowatt hours (KWH) used doubled starting in April 1998. He had been on vacation for two weeks in April, and "[w]hen [he] came back there [was] a trench perpendicular to the driveway, parallel to the roadway . . . about 50 feet. There were power savers on the house. . . . [S]ervice savers were removed.*fn1 [He] suddenly start[ed] having problems with the air conditioner." He produced a document from April 1999 that reflected a customer serviceperson's note that "[w]e did work on his underground service sometime in late 1997, early 1998." Taylor's neighbor, who is a mechanical engineer, told him that low voltage caused his air conditioner to hum. Taylor called JCP&L, and one of its servicemen inspected the box and told him that "the voltage coming into the house is too low." The serviceman informed him that there was "nothing he [could] do" and stated, "We're aware of this problem, it's been continuing for sometime and you're going to continue to have this problem until changes are made at the [Stanton] substation." Ibid.
Both the JCP&L serviceman and Taylor's brother, who has a doctorate in electrical engineering, advised Taylor that his home was "at the end of the line," which meant that he received "what's left after everybody else uses it[-]the voltage, current, the power coming into the house." Subsequently, Taylor lost equipment as a result of low voltage, including two furnace motors, electrical equipment associated with a fan, the refrigerator, the microwave, and his washing machine. This equipment malfunction was "indirect evidence of low voltage in [his] house."
Taylor testified that, when the voltage drops, his air conditioner does not shut off, and the thermostat does not adjust, as they should when using a power saver. As a result, the air conditioner would run for too long and use too much electricity. He obtained this information from ...