John W. Rowe
October 1 1992 by Peter Lacey
In an age of complex, burgeoning environmental regulation, how to be clean and cost-effective? For John W. Rowe. president and CEO of New England Electric System (NEES), one answer is NEESPLAN 3, a program to reduce air emissions while increasing power production and keeping rate hikes in line with inflation.
Unlike some of its more nuclear-powered competitors, NEES relies heavily on dirtier oil and coal-burning generators. But under NEESPLAN 3, it will switch to fossil fuels with a lower sulfur content, install nitrogen-reducing equipment, and convert its oil-fired Manchester Street Station (
“How does one be environmentally and socially progressive while still keeping competitive commodity prices?” Rowe asks. “That’s a basic question for our industry.”
The subsidiaries of Westborough, MA-based NEES supply power to more than 1.25 million customers in
Nevertheless, with an average return on equity of 12.8 percent over the last five years, NEES nosed out Northeast (11.8 percent). “We’re a very return-on-equity-driven company,” Rowe says. Profits for the second quarter ended June 30 jumped 56 percent to $30.2 million.
Like a number of other prominent electric utility CEOs, Rowe, 47, is a lawyer by training. “It’s logical for a lawyer to get involved with the industry at this stage,” he observes. “Economy of scale is no longer the silver bullet-most of the problems are public-policy-driven.” After receiving his law degree from the
Following a stint at Conrail, Rowe signed on in 1984 as CEO of troubled Central Maine Power, which had a ruinous investment in the canceled Seabrook nuclear power plant. He moved on in 1989, when NEES offered him its presidency.
“My biggest challenge at NEES,” says Rowe, “is to teach a successful organization that it has to keep evolving just to survive, let alone get better.”