James Fakult took over as president of Jersey Central Power & Light in June 2013. And while he was not with the company when Hurricane Sandy hit in October 2012, he was an executive with JCP&L’s parent company, First Energy, at the time.
Fakult, who served as the president of Potomac Edison for three years before coming to New Jersey, started on the business side of the industry: sales, marketing and customer service. He feels his background in both operations and communications gives him a unique perspective when leading JCP&L’s 1,300 New Jersey employees while caring for its 1.1 million customers.
The company recently was named First Energy’s Utility of the Year, an honor based on safety performance, reliability and customer service, which he said is “very prestigious and it reflects on the people here.”
Fakult, a native of Ohio, said his wife and six children love living here. He recently sat down with NJBIZ to talk all things energy.
NJBIZ: You can’t start an interview with a utility president in New Jersey without mentioning Hurricane Sandy. And even though you weren’t in the state yet, we know you experienced the storm at your job in Maryland at the time — and we’re guessing you have been impacted by it on every day of the job at JCP&L. Let’s start there, how does it impact what you’re doing?
Jim Fakult: Sandy obviously was a devastating storm of unprecedented proportions. The restoration effort of over 1 million customers in less than two weeks, I think, is the largest restoration effort in this country’s history. We were bringing 100,000 customers a day back online. And it has changed how we do things.
NJBIZ: Let’s start with infrastructure. Many have felt the storm exposed infrastructure weaknesses for all the utilities. How have you addressed that?
JF: We’ve made millions of dollars in investment. We did a quarter of a billion dollars in 2014; we’re doing $267 million this year in infrastructure. There has been a lot of activity for hardening the system to better withstand the next event, whether it’s trimming trees, hardening circuits or circuit ties. We had substation flooding issues that are now being addressed. We continue to work and invest and improve our system. There are some things that you look back on, like substation flooding, and say, ‘We’ve got to have a plan, we’ve got to invest some dollars there.’ And we’re doing that.
It also allowed us to look at the whole storm response process, called ICS — Incident Command System. It’s used federally, locally; it’s a common way of responding to disasters. We implemented that — it’s one of the lessons that came out of it. It will allow us to operate even more efficiently next time. I’m proud of what the guys did, but implementing ICS gives us a little more advantage for next time. We’re drilling regularly.
NJBIZ: How do you do that?
JF: Once a year, we get together as a group and simulate a storm similar to what we had. It’s an all-day exercise, we bring in 80 to 100 people from across the company (vice presidents of operations, directors, general managers, engineering staff) and county and (state Board of Public Utilities) officials.