Inside the NJUA The New Jersey Utilities Association

Inside the NJUA

All of us use the services of a group of businesses called public utilities. Private homes and commercial enterprises depend on the availability and uninterrupted flow of electricity, natural gas, water, and telecommunications services. So how do these companies provide a standard of service and insure that interruptions are kept to a minimum? In New Jersey, an organization called the New Jersey Utilities Association (NJUA) links together the various utilities and provides a forum in which they can share business practices and trade solutions to problems that are unique to their industry.

History, Mission, and Membership

The NJUA was founded in 1915 after former Gov. Woodrow Wilson created the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities in order to regulate all the public utilities in the state. Several turn-of-the-century utility magnates—including John Riggins and Clarence Geist - convened the NJUA to represent investor-owned electric, natural gas, telecommunications, water and sewerage utilities in New Jersey. The utilities came together as a group so that New Jersey's utilities could speak with one common voice and provide a forum for best practices.

The mission of the NJUA hasn't changed since its inception in 1915, says Ernest Cerino, Jr., who serves as the current director of legislative and regulatory policy for the NJUA. "It was and is a place where the state's utilities can come together to share efficiencies among commonalities in a forum setting, and to speak as a common voice." What does this mean to us, the consumers? According to the NJUA website, "Innovative ideas andcritical information are shared among member companies. This exchange benefitsthe membership by increasing its ability to supply consumers with the highestquality service at the most affordable prices."

There are several member companies that belong to the NJUA, supplying the committee members and various experts in the field. The list includes: Atlantic City Electric, First Energy, Public Service Electric & Gas Company, Verizon-NJ, Elizabethtown Gas Company, New Jersey-American Water Company, New Jersey Natural Gas Company, South Jersey Gas, Rockland Electric Company, EMBARQ, United Water New Jersey, Middlesex Water Company, Atlantic City Sewerage Company, Aqua New Jersey, Gordon's Corner Water Company, Shorelands Water Company, and Pennsgrove Water Supply Company.


The most important segment of the NJUA's programs is the roster of committees that serve the interests of the member companies.

"The committees are the backbone of this organization," says Cerino. "From customer service to safety, environment, finance, governing policy, and human resources, here you have committees made up of the brightest in their field, all coming together in a shared forum to exchange information on the best practices in the industry." The committees meet quarterly and represent each of the member companies. They cover common problems and offer solutions. For example, a recent customer service committee meeting dealt with call-ins—people who are having difficulty paying their bills or experiencing service interruptions. Companies offered working solutions for each item on their agenda, in a way that promotes better business practices.

In addition to each private area of concern, says Cerino, all committees strive to keep representatives informed about new issues of importance to the member companies, such as regulatory and legislative changes, new programs and special projects, and all other developments in the industry and business environment that can potentially affect the member companies' operations. They also advise the association about positions it should be discussing with state policy-makers, including areas where legal or other formal action might be necessary. Additionally, they may offer professional development opportunities to committee members and other company representatives by convening special seminars and/or inviting presentations from experts to regularly scheduled meetings.

The committees include: the Customer Service Quality Committee, chaired by Bonnie Bornstein of South Jersey Gas; the Environmental Committee, chaired by Steve Cook of Elizabethtown Gas; the Finance and Regulations Committee, headed up by Thomas Kavanaugh of South Jersey Gas; the Governmental Policy Committee, chaired by Robert Marshall of Atlantic City Electric; the Human Resource Committee, helmed by James Garrett of Middlesex Water; the Member Communications Services Committee, chaired by Glenn Lewis of Sprint; the Operations Committee, chaired by James Clawson of Orange and Rockland; and the Safety and Health Committee, led by Robert Charney of New Jersey American Water.

Key Players

The NJUA has a newly selected president and CEO, Karen D. Alexander. A graduate of Brown University with a degree in sociology, she was selected to lead the NJUA in June of 2006.

The president of the New Jersey Cable Telecommunications Association (NJCTA) since April 1998, Alexander has appeared before Congress, the state Legislature, federal and state regulatory agencies, the media, and the general public as an expert in policy issues ranging from development and deployment of cable and telecommunications technologies to the energy and environmental fields.

Alexander has also served as vice president of public affairs for the Ogden Energy Group, Inc. Working for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, she held a variety of positions including: special assistant to the commissioner for policy and planning, assistant commissioner, deputy assistant commissioner and director of legislation and private sector liaison.

Cerino has been with NJUA since 1984 when he joined asdirector of research, and three years later, he was appointed associate director. He has served as director of legislative and regulatory policy since 2005. With a strong background in government, Cerino's work prior to the NJUA varied from legislative assistant to the New Jersey General Assembly to research assistant for the state's AFL-CIO to working for U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley's campaign staff. Other officers of the NJUA include Chairman Donald Lynch of JCP & L, First Vice Chairman Richard A. Hrip of EMBARQ, Second Vice Chairman Sharon E. Schulman of Aqua NJ, Treasurer Edward J. Graham of South Jersey Gas, and Secretary Marion F. Reynolds of Middlesex Water.

Consumer Initiatives

The New Jersey Cooperator chatted recently with Ernest Cerino about the group's goals, past successes and accomplishments.

What are some of the New Jersey Utilities Association's past successes?

"Recently, there was a bill before the legislature that would put a tax on drinking water. The NJUA was instrumental in seeing that the bill was not passed. This was a tax that would have been passed on to New Jersey consumers. The NJUA also played an instrumental role in the deregulation of public utilities, a couple of years ago."

What are some of the NJUA's current legislative goals?

"There are several smaller bills that we would like to see passed which set up stiffer fines and penalties for people who used fraudulent utilities badges for nefarious practices and crimes. Another bill seeks to increase the fines for illegal digging around utility pipelines, which can cause hazardous conditions for the public and create damage to the pipelines and service. A third bill, the Telecommunications Privacy Bill, would put in place stiffer fines and penalties for those who steal telephone records and post them on the Internet."

What are some of the NJUA's goals for the next five years?

"One of the big things coming down the pike is a revised energy master plan, which details how energy is utilized throughout the state. Another major concern is maintaining constant communication with the New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT). It takes engineering and planning to avoid interruptions of service when working on major highways, for example."

How does the NJUA monitor pertinent legislation?

"In addition to the Governmental Policy/Lobbying Committee, which meets monthly to review and monitor the progress of legislation, we monitor legislation in-house on a regular basis."

What is the one-call damage prevention legislation about?

"This is the call-before-you-dig idea, so that people will not go out and dig without knowing where utility lines are. Now, with one call, the utility can come out and mark the lines so that they are not damaged by digging. We were instrumental in this legislation, which has provided the national model. Also, as a result of the one-call legislation, the Common Ground Alliance was formed in New Jersey, which is where all utilities and stakeholders come together on a quarterly basis to discuss, in a forum, how to best protect underground facilities and public safety." Denton Tarver is a freelance writer living in New York City.