It was framed as a clear decision- does JEA shrink in to the future, or does it grow? After months of detailing relatively grim options involving layoffs, rate hikes, and more, JEA’s Senior Leadership Team has now put forward details of an alternative “non-traditional” response, which would spare those consequences, by removing JEA from the City of Jacksonville’s government structure. The Board of Directors voted Tuesday to move forward with exploring that “non-traditional” response- to solicit and study community or private ownership of the utility. This all comes as part of JEA’s strategic planning process. Leadership has said in recent months that continuing on JEA’s path without any change would lead to electric rates climbing 52% by 2030, with water rates up 16%. This is the result of several factors, including continued moves toward energy efficiency, which largely means less revenue for the utility. To avoid this outcome, the utility rolled out a proposal for what they deemed “austere” changes last month, involving 574 layoffs and more moderate rate hikes. JEA’s Board of Directors voted to move forward with planning for that proposal at that time, but said they wanted more information about other paths that could be taken. JEA leadership had previously talked about an alternate “non-traditional” approach, but Tuesday’s Board meeting was the first time more information was provided about what that would look like. There were several different possibilities, but the commonality is removing JEA from the city government structure and putting it in to the hands of community or private ownership. The Board ultimately voted to move forward with this option instead, saying they want to work on growing JEA in to the future, and this is the way to do it. There are several different options that JEA will now consider in terms of new ownership, from community control to running as a private operation to partnering with some other company, including major tech or oil and gas. As part of this exploration, JEA says there will be “minimum requirements” to any deal. That will include customer rebates, base rate stability, protections for employee compensation and retirement benefits, moving forward with a new Downtown headquarters, and more. Multiple Board members spoke about the importance of these measures, in wanting to ensure the community, customers, and employees alike are all cared for by the current service and as they look at what the future holds. Removing the government control element is vital for the future of JEA, according to the utility, because of the barriers for future growth that exist in the current dynamic. Leadership cited examples like provisions of the Florida Constitution that could preclude them from working in electric vehicles, terms of the City Charter that prevent geographic growth, public records laws that could put them at a competitive disadvantage in new developments, and more. While they projected they could have some success in changing the City Charter, they estimated a change to the Constitution to be a costly battle with a very small chance of success. They, therefore, believe that removing themselves from the government arena is the most effective way to get rid of those existing barriers for growth. Tuesday’s vote triggers what is expected to be a roughly year-long process, that will ultimately culminate with not only a vote by JEA’s Board of Directors and the City Council, but by voters as well, according to the framework JEA has laid out. JEA has floated privatization in the past, which ultimately led to a politically charged debate and the creation of a special City Council committee to study the matter. At the time, the idea was put out as a desire to understand the value of JEA, but Board Members now say they believe the current discussion is what the intended purpose of that idea was. That prior “exploration” stalled out, when Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said that he would not put forward any privatization plan for City Council consideration. Given that, WOKV reached out to the City for a response to today’s vote by JEA’s Board, and a statement from Curry says whatever path JEA takes must have guarantees for the community. WOKV is working through all of this new information, including the lengthy Board discussion, associated resolutions, and what it means for the path forward. This is a developing story that will be updated through today.