Progress Energy Florida CEO Jeffrey Lyash is being promoted to a newly created oversight post in the utility's Raleigh, N.C., headquarters. But he's keeping one foot in St. Petersburg, where he's carved a reputation as one of the region's most active business leaders.
Lyash, who figures he'll spend half his time in Florida, will still oversee construction of the utility's $17 billion nuclear plant in Levy County, as well as all nuclear, gas, coal and alternative energy projects throughout the company.
And with the ardent support of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, Lyash will continue to lead a group studying options for a new ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays.
"I don't want to let go till it's finished. You don't just walk away from those things," Lyash said in an interview Tuesday.
"Even if I'm living in North Carolina, there's a big part of my heart that stays in Florida."
Taking over as president and chief executive of Progress Energy's Florida operations will be industry veteran Vincent "Vinny" Dolan, who has been with Progress and its predecessor Florida Power since 1986.
The change is effective July 6.
Dolan, 54, has worked closely with Lyash and other Florida executives for years, most recently as vice president of external relations in Florida.
As such, Dolan acknowledged Tuesday he doesn't envision major strategic changes, echoing his predecessor's mantra that the company's primary responsibility is to its customers. "We have 4 million people . . . every day that depend on us. We want to make sure when people flip the switch, the light is on."
Chris Kise, former energy adviser to Gov. Charlie Crist, likewise expects few corporate changes.
"This is a long-trajectory kind of business. You're not planning for next year but for the next 15 years," he said. "It's an aircraft carrier. It doesn't turn on a dime."
William Johnson, chairman, president and CEO for Progress Energy, said in a statement that he was confident in Dolan's ability to lead the Florida operation "during this era of potentially transformational change in the energy industry."
Indeed, Dolan inherits a host of challenges: managing the utility during an economic downturn that has cut power demand; coordinating with Lyash in steering the now-delayed nuclear plant in Levy County to fruition; and combatting customer angst and political opposition over planned rate hikes.
Although it delayed its timetable for the nuclear plant by 20 months, Progress wants its customers to continue paying for it ahead of construction. Plus it wants to permanently raise its base rates.
State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said with the switch in Progress Energy leadership "nothing changes as far as I'm concerned. . . . We've got these public hearings (on the proposed rate increase) that we're trying to broadcast to everyone that doesn't want their rates to go up higher."
Fasano said he doesn't know Dolan, but he gives his predecessor credit on one front that he hopes remains: Lyash, he said, has been very receptive to listening to complaints and trying to resolve problems with customers in these hard times.
Observers said the timing of the switch could help Progress push its legislative and regulatory initiatives, given Dolan's political skills honed in Tallahassee and Washington.
Lyash, who had an extensive background on nuclear energy, is known more for his technical abilities and knowledge; Dolan is well-versed in the fundamentals of the energy business but is also known for dealing with regulators and politicians.
Lyash, 47, who has led the company's Florida operation since 2006, will report directly to chairman William Johnson as executive vice president for corporate development for Progress Energy. In his new role, he'll manage various corporate initiatives, including efforts to expand energy efficiency, renewable energy resources and state-of-the-art power plants.
The task gets to the core of one of Lyash's oft-cited goals: finding a "balanced solution" to meeting energy demands of the future, with the right mix in alternative energy, cleaner fossil fuels and nuclear power.
"In my old role, I was responsible for new nuclear construction and I'm still responsible for new nuclear construction, so that part I'm taking with me," he said.
During his time in Florida, Lyash oversaw the company's move into a new headquarters building in downtown St. Petersburg and worked closely with Mayor Baker in establishing Pinellas Hope and Progress Energy Center for the Arts.
More recently, he has taken an active role charting the future of professional baseball here as chairman of A Baseball Community, the civic group weighing options for replacing Tropicana Field.
"Jeff has been a great partner for the city, well, always," Baker said Tuesday. "I'm thrilled for him, for the new opportunity."
Baker said he is not concerned that the legitimacy of ABC's recommendations would be undercut if Lyash is no longer a Florida resident. "He has a proven commitment to St. Petersburg and he will remain supportive and committed to St. Petersburg."
As head of the Florida utility, Dolan is expected to inherit Lyash's seat on various other boards, such as Enterprise Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Florida Council of 100.
Lyash also was slated to become chairman of the Tampa Bay Partnership next year. Both executives said they envision Dolan joining the partnership, though he may not become chairman.
Progress Energy Florida serves more than 1.6 million Florida households and businesses.
Times staff writer Cristina Silva contributed to this story. Jeff Harrington can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8242.