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1st
May 2021

Berkeley Joins Chorus of Outrage Against Proposed NJ Natural Gas Increase

 
By Eric San Juan
 
New Jersey Natural Gas is proposing a 25 percent rate hike on the just over a half-million customers it serves in Ocean, Monmouth, Burlington, Morris, and Middlesex counties.
And officials throughout the region are not happy, including those in Berkeley Township.
 
"A $336.84 yearly increase on our seniors on fixed incomes and our hard working families in the middle of a pandemic is outrageous," Mayor Carmen Amato said.
The company filed an application with the NJ Board of Public utilities on March 30 asking for approval for the rate hike, which would raise an additional $167 million per year. The increase, the company says, is to offset the approximately $850 million in spending the company has done since its last increase, a 9.6 percent increase in November 2019.
The rate increase would increase the average customer’s utility bulls by about $28 per month.
 
The funds are intended to recoup costs related to several infrastructure improvement projects, most notably the Southern Reliability Link, a gas pipeline running through Ocean, Monmouth and Burlington counties that has stirred controversy over concerns about its potential impact on the environment.
 
For officials in Berkeley, the big concern is simple: Dollars and cents.
 
“I understand costs go up, expenses go up, but the money they’re looking to raise for a pipeline has no bearing on Ocean County,” Amato said at last month’s council meeting. “It’s time for the leadership of New Jersey Natural Gas to sharpen their pencils and get realistic.”
 
The township council joined him, unanimously passing a resolution opposing the measure. The resolution was prompted by Council President Angelo Guadagno.
 
"When I learned of the proposed increase I was quite frankly, shocked. Our seniors and families are having a tough time as it is. To add this ill-timed increase is unconscionable," Guadagno said in a written statement.
 
Berkeley is not alone in opposing the rate hike. There has been a chorus of opposition throughout the region.
 
“Our senior citizens saw only a 1.3% Social Security increase in 2021 but are now expected to pay a 25 percent hike in their gas bill,” Ocean County Freeholder Joseph Vicari said in a written statement. 
 
“I fear some of our most vulnerable residents will be left with the tragic choice of paying this increase or buying necessary food and medicine.”
 
Amato agreed, citing the difficulties seniors living on a fixed income face in the best of times, difficulties made all the worst thanks to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
 
"The proposed increase would create an undue financial hardship on our homeowners, especially our senior citizens who struggle on a daily basis to make ends meet,” Amato said. “I am calling on the executives of NJNG to ... re think this excessive and unreasonable increase.”
 
New Jersey Natural Gas Spokesman Kevin Roberts told NJ Advance Media the company recognized the financial hardships some ratepayers may face, and has set up a hotline at 800-221-0051 where they can call to apply for programs to aid in covering the cost.
 
“We absolutely agree,” he said. “They never should have to chose between putting food on the tale and paying utility bills.”
 
The rate hike is not guaranteed. It must be approved by the NJ Board of Public Utilities.
 
NJ Natural Gas previously applied for rate hikes of 24 percent six years ago, and 19 percent just under three years ago. Both hikes were significantly reduced before they were approved by the BPU.
 
“To be back so soon for another large increase, is totally unacceptable,” Amato said.
 
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