BRADENTON, Fla. – The Florida Municipal Power Agency named a Peabody Energy Corp. executive to be its new leader.
Jacob A. Williams will become FMPA's chief executive officer on Sept. 12.
A main factor in the selection of Williams, FMPA officials said, was his "key role" in the development of the Prairie State Energy Campus coal project in Washington County, Ill., and his work with public power agencies that helped finance the $5 billion coal-fired plant.
Prairie State was plagued with cost overruns that have haunted many of the utilities that joined the project, though analysts say it has significantly improved its operations.
Williams, who has spent his 30-year career working for private utility companies, will be paid $330,000, said FMPA spokesman Mark McCain.
"FMPA had a number of very good candidates apply for this position, and FMPA's selection committee found Mr. Williams to have the best combination of qualifications, experience and talents for the job," McCain said.
McCain said there were 66 applicants, and 12 candidates were interviewed by the executive search committee.
While Williams has not been employed by a municipal power agency, McCain said that he has worked with municipal electric utilities throughout his career and has experience working with joint action power supply agencies.
Williams currently is vice president of generation and emissions technologies at publicly traded Peabody Energy in St. Louis, Mo. The company's website said that it is the world's largest private-sector coal company.
Peabody, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization on April 13, developed the controversial Prairie State coal plant.
Williams began working for Peabody in 1999, and has been Peabody's representative on the Prairie State board of directors since 2009, according to FMPA.
Initially, the 1,600-megawatt coal plant was owned by Peabody and public utilities and power cooperatives in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, and Ohio.
The public agencies and cooperatives issued a combined $4.5 billion of bonds to finance their ownership stake in the project. Some experienced fiscal difficulties as the plant suffered from cost overruns and construction delays that required steep rate increases that angered ratepayers.
In May, Peabody sold its remaining 5.06% share of Prairie State to the Wabash Valley Power Association for $57 million.
The transfer to Wabash, a cooperative headquartered in Indianapolis, Ind., places the campus under the sole ownership of public power and rural electric cooperatives.
In an Aug. 12 report, Fitch Ratings said that while Prairie State initially fell short of expectations, its performance has improved and stabilized, and unit availability and capacity factors are now in line with industry averages.
McCain said that Prairie State's troubled start-up was considered when the decision was made to hire Williams.
"Developing a state-of-the-art project, like Prairie State, often comes with challenges and that was compounded by world economic factors at the time," McCain said. "What impressed FMPA's selection committee is how Mr. Williams worked with the project stakeholders to address matters in a responsible and productive manner.
"Today, the unit is operating successfully," he said, adding that Peabody's bankruptcy and exit from the Prairie State project were also considered, but they were not related to Williams' job.
Williams said in a statement that he was honored to be selected to lead FMPA, a nonprofit wholesale power agency based in Orlando with 31 municipal members that provide electricity to 2 million Floridians.
"The agency is in a good competitive position and has a bright future," he said. "I am eager to work with FMPA's members and staff to make FMPA the preferred power and service provider for municipal electric utilities."
Williams also worked for Alliant Energy Corp. from 1986-1997, and Cargill-Alliant LLC from 1997-1999.
He received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree in business administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
"After a thorough search, we are excited to add Jacob's leadership and talents to the agency," the FMPA's board chairman, Bill Conrad, said in a statement. "Jacob demonstrated a keen insight into the business of FMPA, and the board is confident he will keep FMPA focused on its mission to provide competitively priced, reliable power."
Williams is replacing Nicholas Guarriello, who after seven years as FMPA's general manager announced his plans to retire in October 2015.
FMPA had long-term debt of $1.8 billion in notes, bank loans, and bonds outstanding as of Sept. 30, 2015.