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FirstEnergy to Build Control Center

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Ohio utility major, FirstEnergy Corporation (FE - Free Report) announced plans for the building of an advanced and eco-friendly transmission control facility in its Akron operational base in Ohio. The construction activities of the 70,000 square foot center is set to initiate in the spring of 2013 with completion expected by the end of the year.

The company will seek approval from the U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (“LEED”) which is a third party body that provides certification to buildings meeting the highest possible environmental standards and having a congenial work atmosphere. On receiving the green signal, this center will become the company’s third project to receive LEED’s sanction after its West Akron Campus and West Virginia Operations.

The Akron Control Center as it will be known will replace FirstEnergy’s ongoing Ohio Transmission Control Center in Ohio’s Wadsworth province which will then serve as a reserve and training facility. The new center will consist of high-tech computer systems which will supervise electrical transmission operations in parts of the country where FirstEnergy’s subsidiaries operate. Regions under supervision will include Ohio, Cleveland, Toledo, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The project is estimated to cost roughly $45 million and will be developed at FirstEnergy’s existing West Akron Complex, a 150 acre facility which is also home to Ohio Edison service center, office buildings of the company’s various business arms and a FirstEnergy call center.

The Akron center is expected to strengthen the reliability of the company’s high transmission services. Moreover, the company’s use of pro-environment methods for the project will win appreciation given the current pulse of the U.S. energy market that favors environmentally sustainable power generation.

A new natural gas peaking facility in the company’s Eastlake unit in Ohio, in association with American Municipal Power, Inc. (“AMP”), is on the anvil. Such developments would call upon the company to step up its transmission facilities. In this context, the Akron Control Center will potentially enhance the quality of power service delivered to Ohio customers ensuring their loyalty.

Another operator in the utility space, American Electric Power Company Inc. (AEP - Free Report) is also keeping pace with FirstEnergy with its 108 mile Prairie transmission program which is expected to be the first high-voltage transmission line connecting east and west Kansas.

However, the depressed U.S. economic conditions will weigh on the profitability of FirstEnergy and American Electric Power which is reflected in both the companies sharing a short-term Zacks #3 Rank (Hold rating).

FirstEnergy trimmed its earnings expectation in a band of $3.30 to $3.40 per share for 2012 from its prior expectation of $3.30-$3.60 per share. The Zacks Consensus Estimates for the fourth quarter and full year 2012 are presently pegged at 85 cents and $3.35 per share, respectively.

FirstEnergy through its subsidiaries engages in the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity. With a market capitalization of $17.55 billion, the company has 20,000 employees in total.

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