Is JEA selling its customers on selling the utility?

'Path to a promising future' ad preparing Jacksonville for privatization?

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The JEA is airing a new television commercial asking viewers to follow a link about the future of the city-owned utility.

The one-minute ad is only graphics and music. It does not mention anything about a sale of the utility, but suggests people go to a JEA website that answers questions about a possible "non-governmental ownership path for JEA."

Valerie Gutierrez, of Local 2358 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers -- which represents some of JEA's employees -- believes this ad is gearing up to asked the voters to approve elling the utility.

"I understand it's talking about making changes for the next 125 years, but it definitely sounds to me like you say trying to lay the groundwork for the sale of JEA," Gutierrez said.

JEA's CEO,  Aaron Zahn, was not available to talk about the ad or the future of the utility.

News4Jax also wanted to ask Zahn about a presentation recently made by the Florida Municipal Power Agency --  a group that represents 31 government-owned utilities in Florida. Its members were concerned when they heard JEA announce it faces financial troubles from changes that affect the entire industry and that one way to resolve the problem is to privatize.

After the organization did its own research, the head of FMPA, Jacob Williams, suggested during its board meeting in Orlando this week that JEA is not in financial trouble. Its studies showed JEA is well managed and rates are competitive. The group found the JEA has great reliability and good ratings.

FULL REPORT: FMPA update on JEA |
VIDEO: JEA commercial

The FMPA concluded that the narrative laid out by JEA does not apply to public utilities as a whole. 

JEA leadership takes exception to the FMPA's findings, and a spokesman sent News4Jax a written statement saying JEA is not a member of FMPA and that "FMPA is against any alternative to a governmental structure."

The JEA spokesman added that, "The FMPA presentation is nothing more than an ill-informed and misguided attempt to protect the group from admitting the organization (FMPA) is poorly situated to deal with the indisputable trends of our industry."

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was not available to comment on the JEA situation.

One critic of the mayor and any attempt to sell the JEA, Councilman Garrett Dennis, did comment, saying, "We need to be prepared for what JEA throws at us."

JEA's board meets next Tuesday morning.

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