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FirstEnergy CEO takes national stage; says regulatory challenges and mandates make it difficult for electric industry

Betty Lin-Fisher for The Akron Beacon Journal

FirstEnergy Corp.’s President and Chief Executive Officer Anthony Alexander had a national stage Tuesday to discuss regulatory challenges and mandates that he said are making it more difficult for electric utilities to provide reliable, affordable service.

Alexander was featured at the CEO Leadership Series lunch, sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the Institute for 21st Century Energy, and also streamed live on the internet from Washington, D.C.

FirstEnergy is supporting a proposal in the Ohio Senate that would suspend indefinitely meeting mandated energy efficiency targets in the next decade.

Mandates passed in 2008 began requiring 25 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable and advanced sources by 2025 and for electricity demand to decline 22 percent.

Advocates say the efforts have been a cost-effective way to reduce electricity use.

Opponents say they add to consumer bills. Alexander said Ohio’s industrial customers are paying more.

In his remarks, Alexander said, “The challenges we now face from government interference in the electric business are far more intrusive and disruptive, and I believe far more significant to our industry’s future, and to your future. That’s because whether it impacts our traditional regulated business or our competitive operations, government policy is now aimed at stifling the growth and use of electricity — and picking winners and losers in the competitive marketplace.”

Alexander said while America has done a better job than other countries in keeping electricity reliable and affordable, “electricity is under attack in our country — and this battle is being waged through largely untested policies that will ultimately impact the reliability and affordability of electric service, and the choices.”

Akron-based FirstEnergy, the parent of Ohio Edison, is one of the nation’s largest investor-owned electric systems with operations in six states.

Alexander said “energy efficiency, renewable power, distributed generation, micro grids, roof-top solar and demand reduction are examples of what ‘sounds good’ — not substitutes for what has worked to sustain a reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible electric system. The policies to mandate these practices don’t do anything to maintain electric service and shift the fixed costs of the system to customers who can least afford it while undermining the nation’s competitive position,” he said.

FirstEnergy supports and encourages energy efficiency, Alexander said, but said “when efficiency targets are mandated by government — and based on arbitrary, overly aggressive goals — all customers pay the price and it is a substantial tax on those who do not, and cannot, participate in the program.”

Alexander also mentioned the threats to coal use and recognized the role of the growing natural gas supply.

He said it was important for the electricity industry to maintain a diverse fleet of coal, nuclear and natural gas.

“But, perhaps more important, we need to develop a national energy plan that will allow us to take advantage of our vast supply of domestically produced resources — both coal and natural gas — and our superior electric system to stimulate and support our economy,” he said.

On a separate matter involving the company, the union representing about 140 FirstEnergy workers in central Pennsylvania said on Tuesday that its workers will return to their jobs on Monday after what will have been a 21-week lockout. FirstEnergy managers and supervisors have done the work since Nov. 25 when the Utility Workers of America Local 180, representing workers at the subsidiary called Penelec, were locked out.

 

Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com.

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