Guest Series: Jim Dickenson JEA Executive Director

June 29, 2012 15 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville consistently offers the opportunity for our readers to absorb the editorials, personal accounts, and vocal opinions of some of the key players in the decision making process of our community. This week, Jim Dickenson reflects on his time as the CEO of Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA).

I doubt few people anticipated the impact Jacksonville’s utility would have on the community when it was established almost 119 years ago. JEA is now the seventh largest city owned electric utility in the country, and the largest city-owned electric utility and the second largest water and sewer utility in Florida. We serve close to 420,000 electric, 305,000 water and 230,000 sewer customers in Northeast Florida.

As a not-for-profit, community-owned utility, JEA is not owned by investors. JEA was created by the City of Jacksonville to serve those who live here and in the surrounding communities. The sole purpose of our business is to ensure the electric, water and sewer demands of our customers are met, both today and for generations to come. Our goal is to provide reliable services at a good value to our customers while ensuring our areas’ precious natural resources are protected.

We are locally owned and locally controlled. JEA is governed by a seven-member board of directors appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council. Board terms last four years and are strictly volunteer. The Mayor can reappoint a member to a second four-year term.  Our Board of Directors then appoints a CEO who selects a top tier of management referred to as the Executive Management Team (EMT).

I have seen so much change in the 39 years I’ve been with JEA. I started fresh out of Clemson as a young engineer in 1973 – just in time for the oil embargo. Jacksonville Electric Authority, as we were known then, could only produce electricity using oil. Rates skyrocketed as did customers’ bills.

Since then, we have worked hard to diversify our options for generating electricity. We can now take advantage of multiple fuel types and prices and pass those savings on to our customers – of which I am one. We produce electricity from coal, petroleum coke, oil, natural gas, solar, landfill gas and biogas. Fuel to generate electricity makes up nearly 40 percent of the total cost so it is imperative that we use the most economical fuel source for our customers. I am thrilled we are able to lower the fuel rate this year because of the dramatic decrease in natural gas prices.

In addition to electricity, we have water and sewer. We took over this service from the City of Jacksonville in 1997 and have invested almost $3 billion into improving it since then. We have taken it from one of the worst performing systems in the country to one of the best. Our current challenges include complying with ever increasing government regulations and ensuring that the wonderful source of our water, the Floridan aquifer, remains productive for years to come.

In February, I announced to the board I would not renew my contract for another term. It was important to me to accomplish what I set out to do when I took over as CEO in 2004 – ensure that JEA was fiscally sound and always poised to continue the essential services we provide to Northeast Florida. Through the efforts of many dedicated employees, JEA is on the right path to continue its strong legacy of serving this community. I am humbled to say I have been a part of it.

Editorial by Jim Dickenson