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What next for JEA after board votes to explore privatizing?

A former city councilman tells First Coast News the city-owned utility could expand its offerings through natural gas and optic fiber.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — What does the future hold for JEA, the state's largest community-owned utility?

A possible sale or merger is on the table after board members approved the option to privatize. The same conversation took place in late 2017 but JEA CEO Aaron Zahn dismissed the possibility in mid-2018.

Former City Councilman John Crescimbeni was involved in those talks. He told First Coast News that virtually every energy company is facing financial challenges with decreasing sales. More homeowners are adopting more energy-efficient technology. 

"You have to ask yourself if one utility wants to sell because of all these troubles, why would another utility buy because they are facing the same troubles?" Crescimbeni said. "Why would another utility buy JEA?"

JEA Chief Operating Officer and President Melissa Dykes says Tuesday's board vote doesn't mean JEA will move forward with privatizing. 

"It could look something like a co-operative where we turn ownership over to our customers directly," she said. "It could look like an initial public offering. It could look like an initial public offering with technology or oil and gas or even another utility." 

Crescimbeni, who chaired a committee last year looking at the future of JEA, thinks there are other options for the utility. 

"JEA could get into the natural gas business, the distribution of natural gas," he said. "When the current CEO came on board, he talked a lot about dark fiber or optic fiber. Nothing is restricting JEA to just water and electricity." 

JEA outlined a timeline for when a final decision could be made. Competitive solicitations will go out in August to any technology, energy and water companies. 

From September to February 2020, investment banks and advisors will present recommendations for how JEA can achieve maximum value for employees and customers. 

In March 2020, the JEA board will have an opportunity to discuss and whether to approve the final recommendation. 

In mid-2020, if the city council approves the recommendation, the public will then get the chance to make the final vote.

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