In the wake of the scuttled merger between Exelon Corp. and Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG), Mike Morris, CEO of American Electric Power (AEP), thinks a “huge chill” has been put on mergers and acquisition (M&A) activity in the utility sector.

“Clearly, [New] Jersey showed what it could be like,” Morris said in reference to the recently terminated merger between Exelon and PSEG. The deal unraveled when the companies were unable to come to terms with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU) (see NGI, Sept. 18).

Morris was responding to a question from an audience member attending the Merrill Lynch “Global Power & Gas Leaders” conference in New York City on Tuesday.

FirstEnergy CEO Anthony Alexander, who participated in a panel with Morris, said he thinks FirstEnergy “has sufficient size to be a long-term player in the energy marketplace.” He’s “very comfortable with the growth strategy over the next several years, particularly if we are successful in carrying out our transitions — both in ’09 and 2011.”

Alexander is also comfortable with the company’s ability to “grow our asset base through reinvestments in our own generating facilities over the next several years to further enhance that growth.”

Morris said that the growth that “we see at American Electric Power, in the entirety of the footprint, both West and East, is for capital investment in the regulated model.”

When asked about possible carbon constraints, Morris said he views “carbon as a huge opportunity for us. If carbon is three or four dollars a ton in the credit marketplace, we’ll be in great shape in that process. It’ll add so little to the cost of a megawatt hour of production on a coal-based facility.”

The AEP chief also said that the U.S. “will not shut down the coal fleet going forward, unless you and I want to sit in this room and stare at each other without any lights on. Not gonna happen.”

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