The following is an edited transcript of a 35-minute telephone
interview Friday between Akron Beacon Journal business reporter
Betty Lin-Fisher and FirstEnergy Chief Executive and Chairman H.
Peter Burg. Also on the phone was FirstEnergy spokesman Ralph
The interview came the day after Burg testified before the House
Energy and Commerce Committee concerning FirstEnergy's role in the
Aug. 14 power outage that affected an area serving 50 million people
from Detroit to New York.
During that hearing, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., grilled Burg,
saying the Akron-based utility ``should not have a license to drive
a car, let alone operate a nuclear power plant.''
Markey's comments alluded to other problems that have recently
plagued FirstEnergy, including the shutdown of its Davis-Besse
nuclear power plant after a corrosion hole was detected during an
FirstEnergy also recently shocked investors by restating several
quarters of earnings, and a court recently ruled the company had
illegally rebuilt its Sammis coal-fired power plant without
installing proper pollution control equipment.
After the blackout, transmission line failures in FirstEnergy's
territory became the focus of investigators, and at least one other
utility operator said FirstEnergy failed to notify it of problems in
Northeast Ohio. An investigation into the cause of the massive
outage is under way.
A: It's been
unbelievable, really, in terms of the kind of support that the
community has given not only me, but our entire organization in
terms of encouraging us to continue to tell the facts as we know
Q: Has this been
affecting you personally?
Please see CEO, D8
`We know we're striving
to do the right things'
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A: It does hurt. It's
hurtful to me. But it's even more hurtful in the sense that I know
it's hurtful to our employees. When people make statements that
maybe are a little premature and point the finger, it's got to be
hurtful to our employees.
Q: Let's move on to
yesterday and your testimony. How do you think it went?
A: I thought that the
committee really was trying to focus on ultimately finding out what
happened and what were the interrelationships and how can we prevent
something like this from happening again.
Q: There were points
where some of the congressmen were pretty pointed in their questions
to you. Were you expecting that?
A: Well, that's their
job. They were asking serious questions. We still have questions
that we're trying to find the answers to. This is what we've been
saying for three weeks, let's find the answers -- and the reasons
why -- to a very complex situation; and I think, for the most part,
that's what they were trying to do.
Q: Well, you know my next
question is about Markey. (Lin-Fisher laughs.)
A: Well, OK, ask the
Q: I didn't get to see
it, but did he have the last word or did you get to respond? And if
you didn't get to respond, what would you have said?
A: I found it interesting
that the committee hearing lasted for five hours on the clock....
Congressman Markey was the last person to participate, and he chose
to make a statement, not a question, at the very conclusion of the
hearings, and that's his prerogative. We have a very dedicated group
of some 14,000-plus employees who strive every day to provide safe
and reliable service to our customers.... We know what kind of
people we are and what we try to do every day. And I think if you
can live with yourself and you know you're doing the right thing,
that's the good way to go on about life, I'd say.
Q: How do comments like
Markey's and portrayals in the national media that FirstEnergy is a
tarnished company with multiple challenges square with what you
know? What are you doing to try to challenge or change that image
A: We're trying to stick
to and focus on what we have to do in life. That is to go on, if you
will, each and every day. We have acknowledged issues with
Davis-Besse (nuclear power plant) from day one. We have said that in
hindsight there were some signs there that pointed to some issues
and we didn't see them. We've addressed those, we're making
tremendous progress, I think, on the Davis-Besse return to service,
and hopefully that will be done here this fall. And that will be a
Q: I understand you have
to do all of your homework before you figure out what's wrong. At
this point, are there any things that you do know went wrong versus
what there still is to be figured out?
A: Well, we know some
things that happened. You question why a line might have tripped out
when it was only at 40 percent loading, for example. You've got to
go in and dig in and find out why that happened. Why did an
additional line maybe trip out later that again was not overloaded.
Those are the kinds of things you have to investigate. You have to
find out how was system control center systems working that day? Was
it functioning according to the way it should have been functioning?
And finding out why those things were happening.... What was going
on elsewhere? Let's find out those facts and then were there some
kinds of interrelationships going on. Finally,... the transmission
system, if you will, that has been built in this country was really
built to take the generation from a so-called local utility, I'll
say, to really its customer centers. It wasn't built to act as a
superhighway.... One of our recommendations that we had in our
testimony that we think is maybe most important is not only do we
have to pass... mandatory standards with respect to the transmission
grid -- but we have to re-evaluate what are the appropriate
standards themselves given this new relationship.
Q: What kinds of
investments do you think need to be made in the power grid? Should
they be private or public funds?
A: I think that may
depend upon the kinds of things we find out. It also may depend upon
(the fact that) different areas of the country may need different
upgrades. I know we're spending or have spent over $400 million over
the last four years on our transmission system. I know we're
spending most of $60 million, I believe, just in Ohio just this year
on our transmission system. And in addition some $100 million in
(the) vegetation management, tree trimming, aspect of our operation,
because that's important, too.
Q: Do you think the
isolated event that we lost power in Northeast Ohio -- do you think
that will happen again? Because this wasn't a storm, this wasn't
because of flooding. But you also don't know what caused it.
A: Was this the perfect
storm or what? We don't know the answer to that question. We do
know, I will tell you this, we do know that the three or four
transmission lines that we've been talking about have excellent
reliability records, and in particular we've looked at those over
the last two and a half years. And I think three of those were lines
that haven't even been out of service over the last two years. So,
again, we think something was going on in the world that day that we
have yet to find out about.
Q: There have been
significant challenges the company has gone through in the last 18
months, and I'm not going to go through them all, but how do you
answer critics who say FirstEnergy is a poorly managed utility?
A: Well, I try to look
back at accomplishments. I think we do have outstanding customer
service, and we can show you our surveys on that. And we strive to
do that. I think we provide a service not only in a safe and
reliable way, but we try to do it in an ethical way and act in an
ethical way at all times. If we do something that should be improved
upon, we take steps to change our operations; and we've done that in
the past and continue to do that. We know we're striving to do the
right things. I mean, that's the best way you can handle it. You
know you're doing the right thing. People can talk. People can make
accusations. In many cases they may not have all the facts or the