As Utility Auditors, we see this kind of outrageous over-billing often. $115 million, in this instance, will be refunded thanks to rarely seen sanctions against this type of behavior.
If you believe your business or investment property has been overbilled – on any utilities – do not hesitate to contact a Professional Utility Auditor – Immediately. Applied Utility Auditors offers no – risk services. We only get paid if you get a refund. Don’t get over your head in overhead.
March 18, 2015 Last updated: Wednesday, March 18, 2015, 5:29 PM
By DAVE SHEINGOLD
Staff Writer |
Electricity users in six Passaic County communities and all of Morris County will see their rates drop slightly in the next few months following a ruling Wednesday by state regulators that sanctioned Jersey Central Power & Light for overbilling customers, but also let the company recoup money spent repairing damage from major storms.
In a unanimous vote at a meeting in Trenton, the Board of Public Utilities ordered JCP&L to refund $115 million to customers through the rate reduction, mostly to cover overcharges for power grid maintenance throughout its northern and central New Jersey territory from 2008 to 2011.
But the board also ordered that ratepayers pay for $736 million JCP&L spent restoring power following Superstorm Sandy and other bouts of severe weather since then that caused blackouts of up to two weeks.
The net result of formulas that parcel out those expenses over varying periods of time will be a $34 million cut in the company’s annual revenue and a drop of 1.2 percent, or $1.68, in its average residential monthly bill, according to the board. The exact month when bills will drop has not been set, but should come this spring, said BPU spokesman Greg Reinert.
JCP&L’s 1.1 million customers include 15,400 in six Passaic County municipalities – Wayne, West Milford, Wanaque, Pompton Lakes, Bloomingdale and Ringwood – and 197,000 in Morris County.
“Today’s order ensures that JCP&L is providing safe and proper service at just and reasonable rates, while also securing and being mindful of the company’s financial integrity,” said BPU President Richard Mroz.
The decision represents a middle-ground between a $207.5 million revenue reduction sought by a state consumer advocacy office and a request by JCP&L for a rate hike to cover increased expenses and storm-related costs.
In January, a state administrative law judge largely sided with claims by the office, known as the Division of Rate Counsel, that JCP&L used complex accounting techniques to return too much profit to its parent company, FirstEnergy Corp. of Akron, OH. The judge said the issue of storm costs should be addressed in a separate proceeding.
The BPU, however, combined both matters into one.
The ruling was criticized by Stefanie Brand, director of the Rate Counsel’s office, for rejecting the office’s request for retroactive rate cuts and postponement of storm-cost repayment.
“I’m disappointed,” she said. “It’s still a reduction. But I think they should have taken into account the fact that ratepayers had been paying too much for a number of years. They could have phased this in.” She declined to say if the order would be appealed.
Ronald Morano, a spokesman for JCP&L, said the company would review the order before commenting, but noted that it planned $254 million in improvements this year. Those include new circuits, upgraded utility poles, flood-proofing around power transfer stations and tree-trimming around power lines. The latter effort is aimed at a key problem in the company’s largely suburban and rural territory.
Wednesday’s ruling ends an unusually long-running case involving claims that disputed, in highly arcane terms, the write-offs, equipment depreciation and other accounting techniques used to set rates that generate JCP&L’s revenues. A key issue was whether JCP&L collected too much to cover its federal taxes and then used that money to offset taxes owed by other FirstEnergy subsidiaries.
Brand’s office also accused the company of improperly cutting costs, especially on grid maintenance and tree-trimming. JCP&L responded with a case of its own, seeking rate hikes.
An article in the Wall Street Journal – in the height of tax season – announced that TurboTax wastemporarilysuspendingtransmissionofstatee-filedtaxreturnsinresponsetoasurgeincomplaintsfromconsumerswho logged into their TurboTax accounts only to find thieves had already claimed a refund intheir name. That news comes as the most recent of a long trend of cyber threats includingcyberattacks against Home Depot, JP Morgan Chase and Anthem, Inc. Fraudulent return filings stealing millionsof dollars of taxpayer refunds are on the rise. The IRS estimated that it paid $5.2 billion in fraudulentID- theft-relatedrefundsin2013andthey’reexpectingthatnumbertosignificantlyincreasein2014.
The TurboTax problem brings to light a key security issue – end users (individual people) aregetting hacked from their home computers. We speculate that thieves did not break into TurboTax andstealidentities, there was no breach of their security that they could detect.Instead, thieves arestealing your logon information directly from your home and office computers. How? Oftenthrough malware/spyware that loads onto your machine through virus-infected e-mails in your inbox orby visiting infected/compromised websites. Rootkits (a type of virus) is a collection of tools (programs)that may consist of spyware and other programs that secretly monitor your network traffic andrecordkeystrokes as you use your computer and send the information back to the hacker who gathersthis information and sometimes uses or sells it on the dark web to criminals. Another way cybercriminalsgain access to your information is through their ability to hack into your e-mail account. Mostpeople have easy to remember passwords that are also easy to crack which hackers use a tactic calledsocialengineering. A cyber thief cracks your e-mail password, logs in as you, can easily search through youre- mail and gather all sorts of financial information about you (how many of us get our monthly bankand quarterly investment information e-mailed to us instead of paper-mailed?). They then accessthose financial sites and use the “reset logon” or “reset password” features most sites permit, wait forthe “reset” e-mail to hit your e-mail account and change the logon information. Some of the moresecure siteshaveimplementedsecurityquestionsasanextralevelofsecuritywhichcanpreventhacking.
There’s definitely a trend for thieves to get into your computer and gather enough informationabout you to file a fake tax return. At Wiss we’ve had a handful of clients experience this. Our firm hasvery sophisticated, multi-level security in place to protect our clients’ data, but thieves had stolenenoughinformationfromclients’homecomputertofilloutafakereturnandgetsomesortofrefunddelivered to an account that was then closed. We became aware of it when we went to file the actual returnand the taxing authority rejected it because one had already been filed for that taxpayer’s socialsecurity information. Working with the taxing authority to register the theft, file the correct return andsecure the refund for the client is an arduous task that can take many months and requires a ton ofpaperwork and proof of identity by the taxingauthority.
So what can you do to protect yourself?Here are some basic things you cando:
1.Install and maintain a quality anti-virus software which will check for viruses on yourhome and/or office computer on a regular basis which also checks for viruses on incoming email.Just as important as installing anti-virus software is to update it regularly. As new versionsare released upgrades should be installed. Cyber thieves and hackers are fast and adaptable.New
viruses are discovered hourly so it’s very important to make sure your anti-virussoftwareupdates on an automatic schedule which should be set to an hourlybasis.
2.Firewalls either on your network and/or computer must be enabled, configured properly,and updated. Firewalls can keep the bad guys out and your datasafe.
3.Never open unknown or suspicious e-mail. Know your senders and know what you subscribeto. Social engineering and phishing tactics are used to infiltrate your computer, meaning theyenter your computer when you open the e-mail containing the virus. For example, an email froma frequent contact may appear to be from them but the email address behind the person’sname is from a cyber-thief. Viruses can do things like track keystrokes and send the informationback to the cyber thief who can then access any accounts you’ve visited on yourcomputer.
4.Obtain your software from reputable sources – downloading programs you’ve purchasedfrom shady sources or freeware sites are most likely infected. Be sure to keep your systemand programs up to date as security patches are released periodically. Internet browsershave security features in them such as popup blockers, smart screen filters, ActiveX filteringand security features that should be enabled and configuredproperly.
5.Hackers often leave infected USB drives unattended for you to pick up in the hopes thatyou plugit intoyourcomputerso theycangainaccess.Mostvirusscansoftwarewillscanmediaasit is introduced to your computer. As a best practice you should always scan all mediabeforeintroducing to your computer andnetwork.
6.Don’t keep sensitive financial passwords, logons and other information in your online mailor transmit this information electronically. I can’t tell you how many clients we see who storetheir social security number, logons with passwords for financial institutions and other data asa “contact or email from themselves” in their mailbox or keep scans of social security cardsstored in their online photo album or on their computer desktop or “C” drive. This is prime fodderfor cyber thieves who have applications to scan and pick up this information quickly andeasily.
7.Thieves are also highly-adept at figuring out passwords and utilize complex passwordcracking programs so you need to keep a step ahead of them by making your passwordimpenetrable:
a.The longer the password, the tougher it is to crack so try to use 10 or 12character passwords that mix letters and numbers. Best way to do a password: pick a sentenceor phrase you can easily remember and then use the first letters/numbers of eachword, alternating capitals and lowercase and adding a special character somewhere.For example, take the phrase: “Jack and Jill went up a hill” which can be typedas, J@cknJiL!w3nt^Ahi!! . That’s a tough password tocrack.
b.Be unpredictable – don’t use birthdays, your name, common words, SSN, etc. in anypartof thepassword.
c.Do not use the same password for multipleaccounts.
d.Do not text message, email passwords or store passwordselectronically.
e.Change your password regularly (make it a practice to change themquarterly)
f.Do not use sticky notes on your monitor or desk with logon information. Thisisextremely dangerous.
g.Never give your passwords toanyone.
Inadditiontotakingthesebasicstepstoprotectyourselfonline,it’salsoaverywiseideatogetyourtaxpreparer your tax information as quickly as possible in the start of the year. The faster we canprepareyour return and file it, the less chance a thief has to file a fake one and steal your return. Plan ongetting your information to us as soon as you possiblycan.
Cordless phones double as remote life safety annunciators, lending a helping hand to busy caregivers, and providing new paths to market for EST distributors.
By Jeff Elie
The telephone has emerged as one of the defining inventions of the 20th century. Our cell phones accompany us everywhere. At work the telephone is always within reach. Pagers and beepers track us down wherever we are. And at home the telephone remains the primary medium for exchange, whether through voice communication, or the Internet.
It’s not surprising then, that the evolution of life safety should cross paths with the telephone. So far, the convergence has been limited to pager interfaces and autodial routines. But thanks to an innovative communications firm and a forward-thinking EST Strategic Partner, the marriage between these two vital links has at last been consummated. And the offspring of this union already shows promise of creating new opportunities and opening new paths to market for ESDs everywhere.
For Paul Steberger, president of New Jersey-based Applied Telephone, the idea of annunciating text messages generated by an EST2 system on cordless phones was a natural solution for the challenge he faced at Liberty Manor. The owners of this new assisted living residence outside of New York City had some very specific expectations. “They wanted a total communications package,” Steberger explains. “They wanted a wireless emergency response network that would link directly with caregivers over a series of cordless phones.”
System the first of its kind
The idea was to provide caregivers with details concerning the nature of the call each time their phone rings. The LCD on the phone would indicate whether the incoming call was a routine telephone call, a call for assistance, a potential health emergency, or a fire alarm. It would also indicate the source of the call: the name of the caller; their room number; or in the case of a fire alarm, the location of the first device in alarm.
“If a caregiver is in room 311 and an alarm sounds, it makes no sense for him or her to rush back to the desk to see that the alarm sounded from room 312,” says Steberger. “With a system like this, any phone with an LCD display can function as a remote annunciator.” Steberger also points out that a responding staff member can call the room while en route. “They can find out immediately whether the alarm is a cause for serious concern, or whether someone burned the toast – even before they reach the apartment door.”
But this turned out to be easier said than done. “To my knowledge, there is no system on the market that could interpret all the inputs and transmit them to telephones with the level of detail the owners expected,” he says. Steberger had his work cut out for him.
Nonetheless, with some available communications hardware, a good measure of customized programming, and some help from John Ventrella, the EST Strategic Partner who supplied the fire alarm system, Steberger pulled the telephone annunciator system together.
Here’s how it works: an on-site computer monitors the RS-232 line from the EST2 panel for messages. When a message is received, custom software maps the relatively lengthy EST2 message to a database of pre-written shortened versions that can be accommodated by the telephone’s 2-line x 10-character display. The message is then relayed to wireless base stations located in utility closets throughout the facility. From there it is transmitted at 900 MHz to one or more cordless phones, depending on how the system is programmed to respond.
Nurse call and life safety share LCD display
At Liberty Manor the system is programmed to send emergency messages first to the phone most likely to be in the vicinity of the event. For example, if an event occurs on the third floor, the staff member on duty there will receive the call. If the call isn’t answered, it cascades to others in the building.
Each phone has a charging base at a nurse station (called a wellness center at Liberty Manor) where it is kept when not in use. When a fire alarm event occurs, the phone rings and the message is displayed on the phone’s LCD. If a message comes in while the phone is inaccessible, the call cascades to the next priority phone. If the phone is in use when a fire alarm message comes in, the caregiver hears a beep and the message is displayed on the phone. Up to four messages can be queued on a single phone.
Nurse call and regular voice calls follow a similar route. In the case of nurse call, the phone displays the room number from which the call came, as well as the occupant’s name. Inside calls also display this information, and external calls display the caller’s name and phone number transmitted by the phone company with its visual call display service. The Liberty Manor system also includes a medical emergency feature. If a phone is knocked off its hook and no buttons are pushed for 10 seconds, the caregiver receives an emergency message that displays the room number where the event took place.
Fire alarm equipment has priority
By the time Steberger approached EST Strategic Partner John Ventrella, president of System Sales Corporation, the life safety system at Liberty Manor was a done deal. “We’d already sold the job, so we had little to gain by sticking our necks out for this telephone link-up, says Ventrella. But he was intrigued by the concept and soon began to collaborate with Steberger on the project. And with assistance from EST Technical Services, the new team started to iron out the details.
The first order of business was to isolate the phone system from the life safety system. This was essential in order to maintain its UL listing and ensure that the EST2 panel would not be affected in any way by telephones and their connected hardware. To achieve this, the team installed an EST IOP-3. This RS-232 optical isolator card acts as a buffer that prevents the data from backfeeding into the panel. It also electrically isolates the EST2 panel from devices connected to the RS-232 port, thus providing transient protection as well.
With the IOP-3 standing between the two systems, the UL listing remained intact and the phone system is considered an ancillary system as far as the AHJ is concerned. “Approvals and listings never became an issue,” Ventrella explains. “the phones are part of a separate system than merely listens for messages generated by the fire alarm panel.”
Ventrella adds that, while the phones may act as fire alarm annunciators, they are not considered part of the life safety system’s design. “All the required fire alarm annunciators are installed at Liberty Manor in accordance with NFPA72,” he says. “The phones don’t replace any equipment, they only supplement it.” He also explains that fire alarm events can only be acknowledged from UL listed panels and annunciators. The phones cannot act on the life safety system in any way.
The life safety system was brought on line and fully commissioned before Steberger’s part of the project was connected. This established a baseline level of performance for EST2. If, after connecting the telephone system to the panel, the life safety system encountered any problems or suffered any performance loss, fingers could point to the telephone system.
But this didn’t happen. EST2 was oblivious to its new partner and the two systems operated flawlessly together. There was, of course, some tweaking to do. “There were hundreds of messages we had to map from EST2 to the telephone system,” says Steberger. “Each one had to be verified so that we could be assured that the telephone display would accurately reflect what the fire alarm panel was doing.” Before long, however, the system was up and running.
A natural choice for the customer
It was well worth the effort according to Carolann Koerner, Liberty Manor’s Director of Resident Relations. “The system is wonderful,” she says. “The staff have all reacted very favorably to it.” Koerner explains that on a typical shift their caregivers are constantly on the go. “They never stop for a minute,” she says. “A wireless communications system is the only option for a work environment like this one.”
Koerner describes the inclusion of life safety annunciation in their wireless system at Liberty Manor as a natural choice. “It only makes sense,” she says. “We’re talking about the safety of our residents here. I can’t see it any other way.”
But she also cautions that the system is only part of the picture. “Training is, of course, extremely important,” says Koerner. “We have regular fire drills and those drills demonstrate to the staff just how important their phones can be. It shows them that in an emergency situation they have access to a great deal of valuable information, and if used correctly, that information can save lives and prevent injury.”
At EST, Vice President of Marketing Steve Hein believes that this is precisely what life safety is about. “I find it very exciting to see the different applications to which our technology can adapt,” he says. “That’s why we’ve committed so much of our development resources to ensuring our systems are reliable as well as flexible.” Hein adds that the medium for communication of critical life safety information is not as important as getting it where it’s needed in a timely fashion. “Whether it comes from an annunciator, a fire alarm panel, or a cordless phone, if the message is clear, if it’s reliable, and if it ends up in the right hands, we’ve done our job, and that’s something we can all be proud of.”
Just the tip of the iceberg
Both Ventrella and Steberger agree that the success of the Liberty Manor installation has enormous potential for future business, not only in terms of its application to other projects, but also in the way the system is brought to market. “The healthcare industry is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Ventrella. “Similar applications can be found in any institutional market, including schools, correctional facilities, even hotels and office buildings.”
Ventrella explains that custodians, maintenance staff, security personnel, and facility managers would all benefit from a system that allows their telephones to provide this kind of function. He also points out that any EST system and most telecommunications packages can be retrofitted with Steberger’s product to provide the features now in use at Liberty Manor.
There is room for further development as well, according to John Ventrella. “Mobile phones could, in theory, be patched into the panel’s audio system as an auxiliary input,“ he says. “This would allow caregivers to page for assistance if their colleagues aren’t accessible by telephone.” He also points out that EST’s integrated security system could be configured to annunciate on the cordless phones as well. This system, due to be launched next year, comprises a new line of EST security products that will reside on the life safety system’s communications network.
Opportunity for direct sales
But the coordinated life safety/telecommunications approach also has the potential to forge inroads for ESDs directly into the customer’s arena. Steberger and Ventrella are now working on an EST2 specification that’s interwoven with the telephone package. This will allow them to pitch the fire alarm system much earlier in the building design process. Early enough to put control of system design and installation into their hands. They’ve even brought a licensed electrical engineer on-board to round out their consortium and position themselves to offer a turn-key telephone/life safety system. This also gives them the leverage to offer long-term life safety/telecommunications service in a way that effectively shuts out the competition.
“Normally we would leave the installation of our system to the owner’s electrical contractor,” says Ventrella. “Proposing to the owner that we install it ourselves would put us into a competitive position with the same contractors who make up our customer base, and that’s not something we could do and still expect to survive in this business.” But Ventrella feels that the special circumstances surrounding a joint telecommunications/life safety specification could get him to the table with architects and owners without necessarily alienating the contractors. This maneuverability would make his proposal more cost-competitive while at the same time offering the unique features of the hybrid system – a double bonus for the owner, and an enviable position for any ESD.
Ventrella also points out that owners and architects tend to pay more attention to their building’s telephones than the life safety system, which they readily leave in the hands of their electrical contractors. But by bringing the life safety system to the table along with telecommunications, he believes there is an opportunity to discuss the benefits of advanced systems face-to-face with the decision-makers themselves; an opportunity that would not otherwise have presented itself; and an opportunity to make a better sale. “If I had the chance to sit down with the architects and explain Signature Series analog or the implications of EST’s multiplex audio, I know they would sit up and take notice,” he says.
To sweeten the pot for building owners even more, Paul Steberger’s design proposal includes the opportunity for them to turn their telephone systems into cash cows. “Typically, owners of assisted living facilities charge back long distance calls to their tenants, but leave basic telephone service for the tenant to work out with the phone company,” Steberger explains. “Our system makes it possible for the facility owner to provide both basic and long distance service.” Steberger adds that this will generate revenue for the building owner throughout the life of the system. “In two years the income could pay for the whole system, including fire alarm,” he says.
Integration the way of the future
Not surprisingly, a lot of interest in the system has already been generated. “Architects are intrigued,” says Ventrella. “We’ve already got two other proposals on the go and the full specification isn’t even finished yet.” With the current boom in the assisted living industry, he expects a lot more to come from this new approach.
Collaborative ventures like these continue to blur boundaries and present new opportunities. The integrated systems approach being pioneered by EST is also having an enormous impact on the life safety business. Combining fire, security and telecommunications into one cohesive package has the potential to result in a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts. Together, these efforts are reshaping the industry and changing the way customers see their life safety systems. Innovations like these are encouraging customers to turn away from the notion that fire alarm is a mandated fact of life. Instead, they are beginning to understand that these systems have what it takes to be the centerpiece of their building systems. “We don’t live in a static world,” concludes Ventrella. “We have to put our business in the loop and continually look for ways to keep it there.”
For more information, please contact your local EST representative or:
As many New Jerseyans, Pennsylvanians and New Yorkers have come to discover over the winter, the relatively new marketplace for third party suppliers of electricity has not been as great in practice as it may have been in theory.
Many third party suppliers, it seems, have been inexplicably driving up prices on consumers, claiming increased costs due to winter weather — in spite of the non-inflated prices from the primary supplier. A Forbes Contributor went so far as to proclaim this trend a “new scam.”
How are they getting away with this dodgy practice? The marketplace, after all, allows customers to switch suppliers, right?
Unfortunately, switching suppliers can take months to finalize, and some of these companies seem to be exploiting that fact while banking on the docility of others. Late notices for bills threaten power shut-offs and this can also serve in the interest of these price-jackers as people are afraid to take any corrective action.
Our telecom bill auditing discovers and obtains refunds as well as reduces your future bills.
All we need is one month’s bill and we do the rest.
You will reduce your telecom/ internet bills or we are not paid our contingency fee.
We have over 38 years of telecom experience which enables us to expertly review you r telecom bills from all carriers/ internet providers. We examine bills and contracts including AT&T, Paetec, Sprint, Verizon, and Broadview to name a few. We have an excellent track record in finding errors / solutions for the following:
AT&T ABN contract review and billing error discovery.
The ABN bill in our opinion is very complex and difficult to understand. We recently reviewed an AT&T ABN bill and, secured over $100, 00.00 in refunds for an international co. based in NJ.See other customer stories.
Renegotiate carrier contracts including AT&T ABN contracts, Paetec, Sprint, Verizon etc
Wehavesecuredcontractprice reductionsexceeding$60,00.00 per year ontwo and 3 yearAT&T ABN contracts. Also arecentreview ofa 50 employee New Jerseycompany, witha $3,000.00 monthly telecom/internet bill, yielded a 32%monthly savingsor $12,000.00 per year.
Eliminate excess capacity and lines that you are paying for.
We find that more than 50% of the companies we audit/consult for have either the wrong services or circuits and 30 telephone lines. One client only required 1 T1 and 12 telephone lines. The savings were over $1,500.00 per month.
We designed one of the first private interconnected telephone system for a public school inNorthern New Jersey in 1974.
This provided a feature rich solution while saving over 20% in annual costs. We designed/consulted for thousands of lines to the business community, the health care industry [nursing homes, and the assisted living industry].
We developed a software solution for the health care industry
This integrates the low voltage systems [alarms, fire and smoke, door entry control, and wireless monitoring systems] as a turnkey solution. This provides a cost saving solution as well as addressing a life safety issue in that any LCD telephone becomes an auxiliary annunciator panel