If you haven’t been following local news recently, you might be surprised to learn that JEA, Jacksonville’s publicly-owned utility company, is currently in the midst of a financial crisis that its current board of directors – with the blessing of Mayor Lenny Curry – wishes to fix by allowing the utility company to go private and sell itself to the highest bidder.
And, despite JEA’s supposed dire financial straits, it seems that there is no shortage of bidders eager to take control of the company.
Yesterday, JEA released a “Notice of Intent to Negotiate” announcing its plans to enter negotiations with nine “qualified respondents” to identify a top bidder for the company, which has been publicly-owned since 1880. Each of the nine companies invited to negotiate – narrowed down from the sixteen companies who submitted bids – was able to meet qualifying criteria set by JEA’s board.
The release of the names of several companies invited to bid marks a rare instance of transparency in what has thus far been a secretive process. The utility had previously claimed that they would keep the bidders’ names private for several months, but it backed down following criticism from the Florida First Amendment Foundation.
Bids for the utility and its assets are expected to start at around $7 billion. Any potential sale would have to be approved by city council.
Here are the nine companies that made the cut for negotiations, along with a little bit about them:
AMERICAN PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE
American Public Infrastructure is a Chicago, IL-based company founded in 2015 that specializes in “acquisition, operations and investment management of public infrastructure assets.”
AMERICAN WATER WORKS
American Water Works Company, aka American Water, is a Camden, NJ-based utility company that’s been in business since 1886. It operates in over 1,500 communities across 16 states, but buying JEA would mark its first entry into Florida.
Charlotte, NC-based Duke Energy Is an electric power holding company that operates in seven states, including Florida. It merged with Progress Energy, which had previously purchased Florida Progress Corp. which served parts of north and central Florida.
Canadian-based Emera is a publicly-traded energy company that operates primarily in Nova Scotia, but also owns assets in the Caribbean, New Mexico, and New England. Emera also purchased Tampa’s TECO Energy for $10.4 billion in 2016.
JEA PUBLIC POWER PARTNERS
Emera is actually on this list twice, as it is partnering with Bernhard Capital Partners and Suez S.A., a French-based utility company, for a second bid.
Australian-based IFM Investors is a private equity firm with assets that include multiple water treatment operations, the Colonial Pipeline, and a natural gas facility in Freeport, TX.
MACQUARIE INFRASTRUCTURE AND REAL ASSETS
Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets (MIRA) is an international asset management firm that owns renewable energy assets across the world, including North America. This would be their first investment in Florida.
If you were hoping for a relatively local bidder as an option for JEA, NextEra Energy is about the closest you’ll get to it. The Juno Beach, FL-based energy company owns Pensacola’s Gulf Power Company as well as Florida Power & Light, which powers several Florida communities including much of St. Johns County.
…AN ANONYMOUS BIDDER
Oh, that’s right, we forgot to mention: JEA’s newfound transparency apparently only applies to eight out of their nine finalists.
Even after JEA asked all nine companies to allow their identities to be revealed, one company balked at the idea. And, despite having absolutely no obligation to do so, JEA opted to respect the wishes of this mystery company.
Luckily, it’s 2019, so the odds of this ninth bidder remaining a mystery all the way until the targeted deadline of February 2020 are pretty low.