Dec. 8, 2020 – For most of us, 2020 has been a crazy year. The energy/utility sector is no exception. With the COVID-19 pandemic and the Presidential election, some of you may have missed the “excitement” for JCP&L and its corporate parent FirstEnergy.
The “excitement” started in July when the Speaker of the House for Ohio was arrested and FirstEnergy was implicated as “Company A” in the investigation of a $60 million bribe surrounding Ohio House Bill 6 that would give a $1 billion bailout to FirstEnergy.
In October, FirstEnergy announced that it had fired its CEO Chuck Jones and two other senior executives for violating company policies and code of conduct as part an internal review related to the government investigation.
The latest news was on October 30th when rating agencies downgraded the issuer credit rating of FirstEnergy and its subsidiaries including JCP&L to BB+ from BBB, a level that is below investment grade, otherwise called "junk bonds". On November 5, 2020, JCP&L notified the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (“BPU”) about the downgrade and presented its “Mitigation Plan” pursuant to previous BPU Orders and N.J.A.C. 14:4-4.6(d).
As a direct result of this notification, the BPU issued an Order requesting interested parties to submit written comments and will hold a virtual public hearing on this on Friday, Dec. 11th at 10:30 AM.
We are concerned about the downgrade of JCP&L and future implications. Some of you may remember that a number of Mayors and elected officials testified about the poor communication and response by JCP&L in the wake of power outages from tropical storm Isaias at a hearing by the NJ Senate Law and Public Safety Committee in October.
The first concern is that we believe JCP&L has not provided the BPU and the public with sufficient and relevant disclosures of their current situation. We point out that JCP&L has $420.9 million outstanding borrowings out of the $500 million authorized by FERC. This does not leave a lot of capacity to meet the restoration of power outages from winter storms. It was only two years ago that winter storms Quinn and Riley really challenged JCP&L. In particular, we also are concerned about the pressure for operating subsidiaries including JCP&L to dividend up cash in order for FirstEnergy to meet its financial obligations, especially if the Ohio HB 6 is repealed.
In addition, the credit downgrade will increase JCP&L’s cost of capital. In a “perverse” way, this increased cost of capital could result in higher rates charged to New Jersey consumers and, thus, rewarding FirstEnergy/JCP&L for bad behavior.
Anyone interested in watching the public hearing on Friday will need to register (see link below) – you do not need to speak to watch the proceedings.
Registration link: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/6659322327081360652