Energy CEO: Change is necessary, not easy

Renewable Energy

HOLLAND — The energy landscape is changing and the energy industry is changing with it. The key is finding affordable solutions to bring people power.

That was the message Patti Poppe, president and CEO of CMS Energy, highlighted at the West Coast Chamber’s Wake Up West Coast breakfast on Tuesday, Dec. 11.

Poppe spoke primarily about the transition from coal to clean energy at Consumers Energy, the principal subsidiary of CMS Energy.

“It’s not an easy change,” she said. “We’re happy to stand for zero coal and lowering our carbon emissions. We believe that serving the planet is an obligation. We believe the climate change is real. But we know it’s not easy, because it affects people’s lives and communities.”

According to Poppe, the key to successful change is working toward more than a bottom line.

“We work to a triple bottom line,” she said. “It’s about serving the people, the planet and prosperity. We don’t have to choose one or the other, and that leads to a more sustainable business.”

In terms of people, Poppe said, both customers and employees are important — but making sure employees are prepared and informed during the transition from coal to renewable energy is vital.

“As we transition to cleaner energy, we’re focused on our coworkers,” said said. “We don’t take lightly the changes that are ensuing in our business and we don’t want to leave our coworkers behind in that transition.”

During the closing of one coal-fueled power plant, Poppe cleared her schedule and joined her employees. Half of them, she said, retired following the close. The other half secured positions on other projects with the company.

“Having run five coal-fueled power plants for five years, it touched my heart,” she said. “I realized in that moment what a big day it was. It’s been three years, and I can finally tell that story without crying.”

Consumers Energy serves 1.8 million electric customers and 1.7 million natural gas customers. The company has annual revenues of $6.1 billion, assets totaling $18.6 billion and 7,300 employees. It also has a plan to get clean.

“We’ve retired seven of our 12 coal units,” said Poppe. “We’re in the process of retiring the remaining five, and we’re replacing those with only renewable energy. So, we’re very excited for the future.”

The company has already reduced its carbon emission by 38 percent and agreed to a 90 percent overall reduction. It has also reduced its water usage and committed to returning 5,000 acres of land to natural habitat in the next five years in Michigan — 1,000 of which have already been completed.

“We stand for leaving the planet better than we found it for all Michiganders,” said Poppe. “It’s so important that, as a state, we take these steps forward.”

Poppe has a master’s degree in management from Stanford University Graduate School and Business and a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in industrial engineering from Purdue University.

— Follow this reporter on Twitter @BizHolland or Facebook @SentinelBondie.

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