FirstEnergy tells analysts, investors it's getting its act together

26 March 2004 - FirstEnergy Corp. of Akron said it's getting its act together -- and Thursday it took that message on the road.

"We've made a lot of changes to this organization in the past six to eight months," Chief Executive Officer Anthony J. Alexander told analysts and investors.

After a tumultuous year marked by a major blackout, restated earnings and the death of CEO H. Peter Burg, FirstEnergy is focusing on strengthening its core operations, building "bench strength" in management, paying down debt and restoring its good name and investment grade ratings, Alexander said.

The FirstEnergy presentation was part of a global energy and electricity conference held in New York City and sponsored by Morgan Stanley, a major investment banking firm.

Alexander said FirstEnergy's business plan "essentially remains unchanged," although somewhat "less complex" and more focused on the basics than in the past.

Its short-term priorities include the successful restarting of the troubled Davis-Besse nuclear power plant, which went online briefly two weeks ago only to shut down again because of a valve leak. Alexander said the plant is in the midst of the restarting process and is expected to begin adding power to the electrical grid next week.

Another immediate priority is the passage of a rate stabilization plan FirstEnergy has proposed to state regulators. Under its plan, customers would keep paying the same electricity rates from 2006 through 2008 to avoid price spikes in an open market. The state is set to move to a deregulated electricity market after 2005, but the Akron-based utility says competition won't have developed sufficiently by then.

Opponents say state regulators should make drastic changes to FirstEnergy's plan. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio is assessing the plan.

Financially, FirstEnergy wants to continue to pay down its debt, and may do that in part by selling non-core assets, Alexander said.

The company is in the midst of seeking a new chief operating officer, the position vacated by Alexander when he became chief executive on Burg's death earlier this year. Alexander said he expects the company to name a new COO this summer.

Alexander confirmed that the National Electric Reliability Council recently completed an audit of FirstEnergy but said he hadn't been briefed on the outcome of the inspection.

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