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Industry News

Jersey Consumer Advocate Opposes First Energy-GPU Deal

LCG, May 3, 2001New Jersey Ratepayer Advocate Blossom Peretz said yesterday that her state should attach conditions to its approval of the proposed $4.5 billion merger between First Energy Corp. of Ohio and GPU Inc., or disallow the combination.

Peretz said the state Board of Public Utilities should insist on guarantees that First Energy's takeover of GPU will save GPU's 1 million New Jersey customers money and that reliability of GPU's electric service will not be affected. She's also concerned how the deal will affect competition in New Jersey, how GPU's employees will make out, how programs for low-income customers will fare and whether New Jersey ratepayers could get stuck with decommissioning costs at Ohio nuclear power plants.

"We are concerned that out-of- state utility management will not place sufficient emphasis on the local issues of providing high quality service and affordable rates to New Jersey customers," Peretz said in a filing with the BPU.

Peretz complained that the merger, as announced, doesn't include any provision for sharing cost savings with New Jersey consumers. Then, in the next breath, she said the BPU should require the companies to pass on all of their cost savings to customers in the form of lower rates.

GPU officials think Peretz worries too much. "Any cost reductions will benefit ratepayers," said GPU spokesman Ned Reynolds. "We think this is a good deal for New Jersey consumers. It's not like GPU is going to disappear and everything is going to be run from Akron. We'll still have employees and managers here."

The takeover has been approved by shareholders of both companies and by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. In Pennsylvania, where GPU has another million customers, a state hearing officer has recommended approval. The deal does not require approval in Ohio.

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