The new Potomac Edison power company, formed as part of Allegheny Energy's Feb. 25 merger with FirstEnergy, plans to hire an additional 30 to 40 employees for its headquarters in Williamsport, Md., a top company official said Wednesday.
James Fakult, the FirstEnergy president of Maryland operations, made the announcement as the guest speaker at an Eggs and Issues breakfast hosted by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce at the Academy Theater in Hagerstown.
He said the company will hire additional customer service and engineering employees, bringing Potomac Edison's employment to about 520 workers.
"We're excited about that," Fakult said. "I think it's going to be good for the community."
FirstEnergy Corp., with headquarters in Akron, Ohio, is the country's largest investor-owned electric company, with about 6 million customers in seven states.
Its Potomac Edison company serves just under 400,000 customers in Western and Central Maryland, the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia and the Waynesboro and McConnellsburg areas in Pennsylvania.
Fakult was accompanied by Patrick Kelly, FirstEnergy's director of economic development, who spoke about ways the company helps attract businesses to its coverage areas and tools it offers to help local businesses expand.
One of those tools is a program that helps small and medium-sized companies begin exporting their products to markets in Mexico, Canada, South America and Europe, Kelly said.
"The idea is that by selling their product, they're going to be adding more employment, they'll probably use more electricity — that's not a bad thing for us — and they'll help our communities grow," he said.
FirstEnergy will have a local economic development person who will work with county and state economic development teams to promote the area to companies searching for locations, Kelly said. The company is especially interested in attracting companies developing energy-related technologies such as plug-in electric vehicles and energy-storage technology, he said.
Several questions from the audience centered around FirstEnergy's power generation methods.
Asked about the company's attitude toward nuclear safety, Fakult said the company has had a good record at its three nuclear power plants, which are on Lake Eerie and in the Pittsburgh area.
"Certainly, I think our whole industry is going to just continue to look at and refine and find ways to make those plants even more safe," he said.
Fakult said there have been discussions on a federal level about a push toward more nuclear energy, but he was not aware of any additional nuclear plants under design by FirstEnergy.
Another audience member asked how potential federal "clean coal" regulation would affect the R. Paul Smith Power Station in Williamsport.
"I would say at this point, I don't know," Fakult said. "Obviously, we will have to follow whatever laws or whatever rules get in place, and then you make decisions based on every facility and what it would cost to comply with those regulations."
FirstEnergy has invested a great deal of money into "scrubbing" coal, a post-combustion process that uses chemicals to remove pollutants, at several of its facilities, including a $1.9 billion project at one of its largest plants in Ohio, Fakult said.