There are few industries as regulated as the energy sector, and for PECO’s Jack Garfinkle, organizing those regulations means harmonizing a wide set of skills he has accumulated as a lawyer in both firm and in-house roles. It’s also meant mining his political science undergraduate degree in a capacity that the associate general counsel says he hadn’t considered prior to coming to the company nine years ago.
“I don’t think I realized initially that this position would be located at the intersection of politics and the law,” Garfinkle says. “I’ve really enjoyed the fact that we interact with the government and numerous stakeholders to work on a litany of issues, including new legislation, that will impact the industry as well as our customers.”
Garfinkle says PECO’s increasing renewable energy options for its customers, as well as the company’s front-and-center focus on community involvement, is keeping the Pennsylvania energy company close to the customers who keep PECO’s energy flowing.
For an industry where the bare minimum of customer satisfaction begins with uninterrupted and unqualified access to energy, Garfinkle says his job requires a substantial dose of patience.
“We operate in a very highly regulated environment. For most proposed projects, we can’t just flip a switch and go forward with it,” Garfinkle says. “We like to say we’re very planful at PECO; as soon as we come up with an idea, the first thing we have to do is figure out a timeline for it.”
Unlike most industries, where an idea can give way to almost immediate execution, the number of regulators and stakeholders in the energy industry means that even what may seem like a mundane initiative can take a good chunk of time.
These extended timelines mean Garfinkle works harder than most lawyers to combat the idea that legal is there to put hurdles in the way of the business. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. The amount of involvement that legal has to have because of the very nature of the business means the department is involved in a lot more of the entire business strategy from beginning to end.
“Many companies have legal and business issues to contend with on a regular basis, and some also have government and regulatory issues, but for us those issues permeate through almost all of our projects,” Garfinkle says. “It’s incumbent on my team to shepherd these projects through the process—you can’t get through it without the lawyers.”
“As technology improves and customer interests become more focused on the environment and climate change, we’re making sure we stay ahead of it.”
Garfinkle says that aiding in the execution of strategy ultimately comes down to wanting to do right by PECO’s customers. “We spend a lot of time thinking about our customers in this rapidly changing industry,” Garfinkle says. “Only twenty years ago, we were a company that generated electricity primarily by coal or nuclear power. Clean and renewable energy is very popular with our customers, so we continue to find new ways to develop plans for what a future utility provider looks like and the various ways we can support this type of energy.”
PECO has created and evolved a number of award-winning programs aimed at helping its customers be more efficient and energy conscious. Home energy audits, old appliance recycling, and solar innovations are all either in practice or in the works.
“It may sound counterintuitive to work with our customers to use less energy, but that’s exactly what we’re trying to do,” Garfinkle says. “As technology improves and customer interests become more focused on the environment and climate change, we’re making sure we stay ahead of it.”
Along with its burgeoning renewable emphasis, PECO has earned a reputation as a strong community partner in Pennsylvania. “If you walk around Philadelphia, you’ll see our name as a sponsor on everything from charitable events and museum programming to various community groups,” Garfinkle says.
Along with other members of PECO’s leadership team, Garfinkle participated in a yearlong Leadership Philadelphia program that teaches participants about the city from a number of different perspectives, with the ultimate goal of promoting its graduates’ participation in nonprofit organizations.
Following Garfinkle’s participation, he joined the board of the Walnut Street Theater, which is the oldest theater in the United States and has the largest subscription base of any theater in the world. “It’s a very different business than my day job, but it’s such an interesting place to be. They provide great services to children and others in the community.”
Within PECO’s own legal department, a robust pro bono program encourages all internal lawyers to give back. Most recently, lawyers provided free name changes for members of Philadelphia’s transgender community and participated in a Wills for Heroes event, which provides wills for first responders. The general counsel of Exelon, PECO’s parent company, and PECO were among those who attended the event.
“It’s not just lip service here,” Garfinkle says. “I’m proud to say that this mentality of providing pro bono service to our communities is from the top down.”