PSE&G says bills will be lower even with upgrades

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- New Jersey's largest utility company said Wednesday that it believes customers will pay less for electricity and natural gas even if the company gets permission to spend $4 billion over the next decade to stormproof its system in a project that the company proposed last month as a response to outages caused by Superstorm Sandy.

Public Service Electric & Gas, a unit of Public Service Enterprise Group Inc., says residential customers will pay $1 less a month in 2018 than they do now if energy commodity prices remain at current levels.

The projection also does not take into account any future rate increases to pay for repairs made after Sandy hit last year.

The company released some financial details of the plan on Wednesday, the same day the state Board of Public Utilities first took up the plan, telling the company it will need more information before it can decide whether to approve it.

PSE&G said customers' average monthly bills would rise slightly over the next two years — by 70 cents in 2014 and another 80 cents in 2015, before beginning to fall, largely because electrical surcharges will expire in the next few years. The company says bills would fall by more than $6 per month in 2016 before rising a bit over the next two years.

Currently, residential customers with electric and gas service pay the company about $2,400 annually or $200 per month.

Company President Ralph LaRossa said on a conference call Wednesday that if the system upgrades are not done, the average residential bill would be about $8 per month lower in 2018 than it is now.

Some consumer groups have criticized the cost of the plan.

In its plan, PSE&G says it wants to raise or bunker electrical substations in flood-prone spots, line old cast-iron gas lines with plastics and make other changes designed to prevent outages and make them easier to repair when they do happen.