Many of us in various regions of the country are feeling the pinch of ever-rising utility bills, but imagine you opened your mail to find a ten-fold, month-over-month increase on your electric bill — surely this is a simple accounting error, you would immediately surmise.
But for Melissa Milano, the third-generation owner-operator of Great Meadows, New Jersey’s Island Dragway, the bill was no mistake, and it wasn’t even the icing on the cake.
The monthly utility bill during the peak of the racing season for the half-century-old 1/4-mile dragway generally runs between $500 and $700. Drawing upwards of 140 cars, Island’s Friday night program is key to the financial success of the facility, and combined with the weekend racing program, Milano says the lights are generally operational around six hours per month on average. And so when Milano opened her June bill from Jersey Central Power & Light, she was floored: $5,269.52.
“When I got my June statement, I sort of laughed at it, because when you get a bill that high you know something is wrong. So I called them up and explained that it was wrong and they confirmed that my usage was down, and they didn’t know how this could possibly be right. A supervisor told me they would look into it and get back with me. Last Thursday I called them back and they told me that the rates and the bill were correct. I didn’t have the money to pay it, so I asked them to set me up on a payment plan, even though I have no idea how it could possibly be right. They asked how much I could come up with by August 1 and I said $1,500, and it was then that they told me I had two months to pay the other $14,000. I said, ‘what?’ She said, ‘yeah, the July bill just went out and its over $11,000.’ ”
They asked how much I could come up with by August 1 and I said $1,500, and it was then that they told me I had two months to pay the other $14,000.
June and July combined, Milano owes $16,623.74 — the two bills are eight and 22 times the typical amount, respectively. Milano notes with the longer days this time of year, her bill would generally be on the low end through June and July, not higher.
A quick look at the bill shows a capacity charge which accounts for much of the final total. Following exhaustive research over the weekend, Milano learned that Island Dragway is now deemed a high-voltage account, and has thereby been slapped with a base capacity charge of more than $11,000 during peak-usage periods.
“We can’t operate like that. It’ll totally shut us down. We wouldn’t be able to afford it. We just flat-out wouldn’t have it. They’re saying if this doesn’t get changed, it’s $11,000 each month is the starting point,” Milano told lehighvalleylive.com.
The capacity charge, she notes, is set by a company called PJM, which chooses the five peak days of the previous year to find an account’s usage. The five peak days/times of last year, she discovered, were times the track wasn’t even open — between 4-5 p.m. on a Friday, when the track doesn’t open until 7 p.m. PJM and JCP&L are charging Milano for 1,257KWH of usage per day, when in fact her entire monthly usage is only 1,200-1,500 KWH. “It just makes no sense,” she quips.
To circumvent some of the costs, Milano could move up the weekend bracket racing program to complete before sunset, but Friday, again, is paramount, as Milano notes, “without Fridays, I don’t see how we’ll get through a season. It’s just a good night for us.”
Milano, who took over running Island Dragway from her mother and re-opened it in July of 2013 after a year of closure due to flooding from hurricanes Irene and Sandy, says she doesn’t suspect any political back-door dealing to drive the dragstrip out of operation.
“I don’t believe there is anything like that going on. Our township has really been on our side. We’re a small town, and there’s not much driving people into the township other than us, and so we help all of the small businesses in general by bringing traffic through town. People could certainly be a little more respectful when they leave, and we have gotten some complaints from the neighbors about that, but their complaints aren’t anything about us being here.”
We can’t operate like that. It’ll totally shut us down. We wouldn’t be able to afford it. We just flat-out wouldn’t have it.
Milano says, “we have a dedicated account representative who has told me they’re [JCP&L] working on it. But we have been given no indication that they are either right or wrong.”
“We are aware of the customer’s concern and we are reviewing the billing history, recent bill and rate and will be in contact with the customer regarding the situation,” JCP&L spokesman Ron Morano told NJ Advance Media.
Milano shared with lehighvalleylive.com: ”I’m pretty much at the point where I know it’s the capacity charge and the bill is going to start at $11,000 even if this doesn’t go away. So at this point, I might as well open for another Friday night and just let them shut the lights off because it’s ridiculous.”
The situation at Island, if a resolution cannot be found, would be another dagger in the heart of New Jersey drag racers, who are still reeling from the closure of Englishtown’s famed Old Bridge Township Raceway Park — located just 70 miles from Island —earlier this year.