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NJNG URGES REGULATORS TO REJECT ANTI-CONSUMER MOTION BY INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS TO ELIMINATE UTILITY APPLIANCE SERVICE

       NJNG URGES REGULATORS TO REJECT ANTI-CONSUMER MOTION BY
    INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS TO ELIMINATE UTILITY APPLIANCE SERVICE
    NEWARK, N.J., Jan. 14 /PRNewswire/ --New Jersey Natural Gas Company (NJNG) today urged the state Board of Regulatory Commissioners (BRC) to reject a motion filed by independent contractors that would force the utility to end its appliance service function.  NJNG said the motion was an anti-consumer measure, primarily intended by the independent contractors to remove a competitor from the appliance service marketplace, and would ultimately lead to higher prices for appliance service customers.
    BRC acceptance of the motion would also likely result in the elimination of hundreds of appliance service-related jobs at NJNG and at other state-regulated, investor-owned public utilities, NJNG said.
    In objecting to the motion by the New Jersey Association of Plumbing, Heating and Cooling Contractors, Inc., seeking to compel NJNG to terminate all gas appliance service operations except for emergency leak responses, company President and Chief Executive Officer Philip H. Reardon said NJNG customers "expect and deserve the good service we provide."
    "Our customers do not have to call us to service their appliances," Reardon said, "but they should have that option open to them.  Last year, about 50,000 NJNG customers chose to rely on our personnel for their appliance service needs.  They understand that natural gas is a volatile fuel that requires the handling of an expert, and all our appliance service people must undergo a rigorous training program before they are permitted to go out into the field."
    Reardon pointed out that smaller, independent contractors do not typically offer the seven-day, around-the-clock service that public utilities provide.  "If they do, their customers often have to pay higher charges for 'middle-of-the-night' service.  We don't operate that way," he said.
    Reardon also called the association's claims that customer gas bills subsidize appliance repair charges as "blatantly false."  "This is simply not true, as BRC commissioners, BRC Gas Division staff and the Public Advocate's office have already verified," Reardon said.  "NJNG does not provide free or subsidized appliance repair service.  Every customer who calls for appliance repair pays for it with a separate charge.  Customers not using appliance repair services don't pay for those who do."
    Reardon noted that all NJNG appliance repair charges and services are subject to review and approval by the BRC.
    "Independent contractors have never been subject to such scrutiny," he said.
    "We recognize that the state of the economy has made it difficult to succeed in business, but times are tough on all of us," Reardon said. "Asking the BRC to remove the legitimate, board-regulated, appliance service function of public utilities--with no justification whatsoever-- is nothing more than an attempt by the contractor's association to gain more market share for its members at the expense of forcing prices upward and eliminating the jobs of hundreds of highly skilled utility employees."
    NJNG serves more than 313,000 customers in virtually all of Monmouth and Ocean counties and parts of Morris and Middlesex counties.
    -0-        1/14/92
    /CONTACT:  Glenn J. Phillips, 908-938-1112, or David M. Klucsik, 908-938-1114, both of New Jersey Natural Gas/ CO:  New Jersey Natural Gas Company ST:  New Jersey IN:  UTI SU: SM -- NY039 -- 9518 01/14/92 11:36 EST
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Jan 14, 1992
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