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JEA gives final go-ahead for new downtown building

Rate increase also possible because of failed nuclear power plant investment

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Recent attention on JEA has centered on the nine companies bidding to buy the utility.

But at Tuesday's board meeting, News4Jax learned there are other aspects that could affect customers and rates.

JEA CEO Aaron Zahn said the future of JEA put plans to build a new headquarters downtown near the courthouse on hold. Zahn told the board and the developer at the meeting that the hold is no longer necessary and they are ready to move ahead.  

Zahn said the bidders all are aware of the project and would be agreeable if they are accepted.

"What we do know is that we have enough certainty financially that we should be able to commit to that project in downtown for our employees and for the downtown development," Zahn said.

RENDERINGS: A look at the new JEA office tower

Board members were made aware of that when they got an update on the bid process, known as the ITN or invitation to negotiate. Investment bankers from Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan laid out the process and the status of the plan and what is next for the board. But Zahn pointed out a sale is only one option that the board will consider.

"So the ITN process and the outcome of that will really only be one of five options that this board will have the ability to choose from in terms of the next 10 years' strategy for the business," Zahn said.

Among the other choices: Stay the current course or cut jobs and expenses. Another plan would be to offer stock in JEA and make it a community ownership.

One thing board members were told is to expect an update soon on Plant Vogtle, the nuclear power plant in Georgia that JEA is on the hook for $3 billion in construction costs. 

JEA has been in a legal battle over its contract to purchase nuclear power from the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia. That agreement requires JEA to pay a portion of the construction cost and to buy 20% of the power from the nuclear power plant once it goes online.

Zahn told the board he will come back next month with an update on the project and the cost.

News4Jax asked him  whether customers could see a rate increase because of Plant Vogtle.

Zahn responded: "I would say it's not that you could (see an increase), we will (see an increase)!"

As for how soon that could happen, Zahn said that is a conversation he will have with the board.

About the Author:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.