Profile: Ralph Izzo — Chairman, President, Chief Executive of PSEG

Where the buck stops at PSEG, Izzo fields the toughest questions and is reputed to throw a wicked hanging curve

Title: Chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Public Service Enterprise Group, the owner of Public Service Electric & Gas, the state’s largest gas and electric utilities.

Age: 55

Why he’s a player: Izzo leads a company with 10,000 employees, which spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually, and sometimes much more, maintaining its gas and electric infrastructure. It also makes huge investments in promoting solar, and is the third-largest provider of solar installations in the country. Izzo also is chair of the Rutgers University Board of Governors, a role that thrust him into the middle of the controversy surrounding the college’s former head basketball coach, Mike Rice, who was fired after a video surfaced showing him verbally and physically abusing his players.

How Sandy has changed the sector: “I just think Sandy changed the game for all of us,’’ Izzo said. PSE&G, a utility traditionally ranked as among the most reliable in the country, had 1.8 million customers left without power after the storm. His company has proposed to spend $3.9 billion to make the grid more resilient, a tough task he concedes. “Of the 1.8 million customers without power, 1 million still would have been out. That’s still a very bad week around here,’’ he said.

Where the state ought to focus its efforts: After making improvements to the power grid, Izzo hopes the state puts a priority on energy efficiency projects, a strategy his company would gladly invest in. “Energy efficiency is a triple win,’’ he argued. “It’s a win for the environment. It’s a win for the consumer, and, if designed properly, it can be a win for shareholders.’’ The utility has a filing it expects to submit to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities after its case for upgrading the grid is decided.

How he would change the regulatory system: He would abolish the base-rate case system in which the BPU decides what utilities may earn for their investments in extended litigation. “The only people who seem to like base-rate cases are the people who bill for their hours and their participation. This is an arcane 100-year-old system that needs to be rethought and there are other models out there,’’ he said.

How he’s different from other energy executives: Izzo spent more than $1 billion retrofitting the company’s two coal-fired plants to meet tougher clean air standards. It is a decision he candidly admits would not have been made today, with the steep drop in natural gas prices. These days, both plants generally burn natural gas, instead of coal.

What you might not know about him: He was a former pitcher for the baseball team at Columbia University, where he also earned a doctorate in applied physics. Until two years ago, he also attended fantasy baseball camps. He remains a steadfast New York Yankees fan.

Former employers: The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, former Sen. Bill Bradley (D-NJ), and former Gov. Thomas Kean.

Hometown: Cranbury Township, where he lives with his wife and son and daughter.

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