JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- First Coast News obtained an early "draft" of the study requested by JEA to weigh the pros and cons of a possible sale to a private investor.
The possible sale of JEA came to light when a letter was sent out by newly-elected JEA Board Chairman Alan Howard offering incentives to some leaders if they stayed in the case of a sale. That letter has since been rescinded, but the controversy seems to be mounting.
JEA is city-owned, making every one of its nearly 460,000 rate-paying customers stakeholders.
Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis called a meeting Tuesday to discuss the possible sale and to his surprise, there was a huge turnout. Possible just as shocking, he said, was the fact that no one from the mayor’s office showed up until after the meeting ended.
"This affects every single person in this county, everyone," Dennis said.
He said a lump sum from a sale looks enticing, especially at a time when money is needed for downtown projects, but it would lose the city money over time.
"It would continue to pay and fund things in our city for years and generations to come," he said. "Selling it in one big chunk of cash upfront, we will lose that annuity, that residual payment in income."
If the city were to move forward with the sale, a voter referendum would not be required, contrary to what community members asked for at Tuesday's meeting.
He said it places more responsibility on them to represent what ratepayers want.
"It’s very important that we do the will of the people, and not what we want to do," he said.
Howard made the official request for the study, following the recommendation of previous board chair Tom Petway.
"Which was followed up by the mayor’s affirmation that he thought it was a good idea," Howard said.
He said past studies have yielded negative results but he files like there is a "changing climate" now in the utility industry.
The study will ultimately be used to determine if JEA should be sold to a private company.
"Anyone who suggests this is a done deal is wrong," Howard said.
The report warns, to some potential buyers, "increasing revenues' can mean higher utility rates; and 'decreasing cost' can mean reducing the labor force and a lower economic profile in the City.”
In a comparison with Clay Electric and FPL, JEA is slightly more expensive, on average. In contrast, JEA makes money for the city, bringing in $241 million last year. It’s also $4 billion in debt, which a sale could help remedy.
In that regard, the study reports, “obtaining the highest possible up-front price may lead to outcomes that are not optimal for the long-term customers” and that a possible sale would be "one of the largest, most complex transactions ever attempted."
One complicating factor for a sale has to do with a nuclear power plant being built in Georgia.
In 2008, JEA entered into a 20-year contract to build the plant. Despite being years behind schedule the billion dollar project is still moving forward, along with $17 million of money already invested by JEA to help with construction.