With the approval of its plan to invest $694 million in accelerated electric and gas infrastructure projects, Public Service Electric & Gas Co. (PSE&G) began to hire the first of 900 new utility and contractor positions to be created during the next two years.

The capital infrastructure investment program, approved by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU), is in response to Gov. Jon Corzine's call for increased capital spending to create jobs while ensuring that customers continue to receive safe, highly reliable electric and gas service. The company's original proposal, filed on Jan. 22, would have resulted in $698 million of capital investments. The amount approved was part of an agreement with the BPU staff and the Department of the Public Advocate, Division of Rate Counsel. The BPU approved several other utility plans as well.

"PSE&G has always played a strong role in New Jersey's development and economic health," said Ralph LaRossa, president and COO of PSE&G. "There's no question that we can once again help the state get through one of the most challenging times in its history. We're ready to get to work." LaRossa said the utility will make every attempt to use local suppliers and contractors, in addition to its own skilled workforce.

"These projects were carefully reviewed against strict criteria," said BPU President Jeanne Fox. "By expediting spending on identified infrastructure needs, these projects can provide important support for our economy now, as requested by Gov. Corzine, while ensuring a reliable and secure energy supply for future economic growth. In addition, by putting many of these projects out to bid in a slow economy, this work can be completed at a lower cost to ratepayers."

PSE&G has also proposed a $190 million Energy Efficiency Stimulus Program that would encourage conservation and create about 650 green jobs. If approved, it would expand an existing program that offers energy audits, programmable thermostats and other measures to residents in the state's urban centers, as well as investment-grade audits to hospitals and businesses, providing additional jobs for contractors. A BPU decision is expected in June. Under the investment approved today, PSE&G will begin work on 38 electric and gas initiatives. About 900 skilled utility and contractor positions would be created in New Jersey during the next two years from this accelerated capital investment.

Electric system improvements to require 600 jobs

The utility will spend $421 million in electric system capital improvements, including the $50 million replacement of mercury vapor municipal street lighting with more efficient induction fluorescent lighting. PSE&G is the first in the nation to offer the new "green" fixtures, which emit more light, last four times longer and cost less to operate than older models. PSE&G will now replace 96,000 street lights in two years, resulting in immediate cost savings to municipalities. Other electric system work will include replacement of aged underground cable facilities, network transformers and relays, and the upgrading of overhead cable, transformers and substation equipment. About 600 new utility and contractor positions are expected to be created to perform this work.