Chuck Takes Part in FERC Conference

July 13, 2020

FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones recently took part in a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) webcast conference on the impact of COVID-19 on the energy industry. While on a panel to discuss COVID-19’s effect on access to capital, Chuck started his remarks by commenting on this unprecedented time in our country’s history. He began by echoing FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee’s recent comments against racial inequality and social injustice. “We stand with our employees, customers and communities in strengthening our commitment to diversity, inclusion and social responsibility,” Chuck said. “We must strive to make our country a better place now and for future generations.”

To meet the COVID-19 challenge, Chuck said FirstEnergy is focused on putting health and safety first, while doing what’s necessary to keep the lights on for our customers. “Our response to COVID-19 has required careful planning and consistent communication on everyone’s part, and I’m proud of our entire team for the resiliency they’ve shown and the great job they’ve done over the past few months,” he noted. “I’m especially proud of our utility employees, who have continued to do their jobs in the field, including restoring power quickly and safely to customers after a series of recent storms – and all while following our established precautions for minimizing the spread of this virus.”

With regard to COVID-19’s effect on access to capital, he stressed the immediate need to address the aging bulk electric system, the critical need for access to capital, investment and an adequate return on equity (ROE), and the importance of getting asset management right.

Over the past few decades, there’s been a lack of investment in the bulk electric system, Chuck pointed out. At FirstEnergy, about one-third of our transmission line miles have exceeded their 60-year useful life. “The age and condition of the transmission system in the PJM region poses a significant risk to reliability,” Chuck noted. “That’s why a central component of our Energizing the Future program is focused on modernizing and strengthening the system by replacing aging transmission lines and equipment to enhance reliability for our customers.”

However, Chuck voiced serious concerns as to whether companies can undertake critical transmission projects without access to capital. “There is more work to be done to establish ROEs that are sufficient enough to attract necessary and sustainable investments in the bulk electric system – investments that not only benefit customers by improving reliability, resiliency and security, but can also help fuel economic recovery from COVID-19.”

The transmission owners’ ability to manage their own assets and plan much-needed projects is equally important, according to Chuck. Like a homeowner who must decide whether to patch or replace a roof to preserve the overall structure’s integrity, transmission owners are best positioned to understand the condition of their assets and determine the need for maintenance, replacement and improvement.

“The transmission system continues to provide reliable service for customers during the COVID-19 pandemic – including for critical care facilities, large and small businesses, and people temporarily working from home. Now more than ever, our focus should be the continued provision of safe, reliable transmission service,” Chuck concluded. “To enable that, we need to concentrate on regulatory treatments and policies that can help ensure access to capital, sufficient cash flow, and adequate ROE and return on investment (ROI) for utilities. And, we’ve got to ensure that transmission owners continue to manage their own assets and plan projects essential to providing reliable service to customers.”