PG&E, California’s largest utility, selected Patti Poppe to lead the company after it emerged from bankruptcy and is under pressure to bolster grid resilience in the face of wildfire threats.
Poppe is a long-time utility executive at CMS Energy, based in Jackson, Michigan, and its utility subsidiary Consumers Energy, which has about 6.7 million customers. She will become PG&E’s chief executive officer on Jan. 4.
Poppe is joining PG&E on a five-year contract about six months after California’s largest utility emerged from a bankruptcy driven by $30 billion in wildfire-related liabilities.
Like other California utilities, PG&E is focused on buffering its customers from planned and unplanned wildfire-related power outages, including by building microgrids.
Annette Clayton, CEO and president of Schneider Electric, active in microgrid development, said that Schneider looks forward to supporting Poppe and PG&E in providing safe, resilient and green power to the utility’s customers.
“We do believe that fast and creative responses will be key in addressing the needs of PG&E’s customers and we welcome the opportunity for a well-rounded portfolio of PG&E implemented solutions along with encouraging the deployment of behind the meter microgrids,” Clayton said.
PG&E hopes Poppe’s experience in Michigan can help the company contend with various challenges.
“We all recognize that PG&E must continue to improve, adapt, and become more resilient to the changing climate,” Robert Flexon, chairman of PG&E’s board of directors. “As the leader of Michigan’s largest utility, Patti has embraced technology and put the company on a course to achieving its ambitious clean energy goals while maintaining steady and safe performance, prioritizing customer service, and advancing workplace equity.”
Consumers Energy jumps into renewables
Under Consumers Energy’s most recent integrated resource plan, approved by state regulators last year, by 2040 the utility will exit coal-fired generation, get 90% of its electricity from clean resources and cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 90% from 2005 levels.
The utility last year also launched its Jackson Smart Energy District pilot project that covers a four-block area and will include solar, battery storage and electric vehicle chargers.
Consumers Energy last year brought online a solar-plus-battery project in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Circuit West project includes 500 kW of solar and a 500 kW battery system.
Poppe supports EVs
Under Poppe’s leadership, Consumers Energy in September announced plans with five other utilities to build an electric vehicle charging network across the Midwest. Consumers Energy last year started offering its customers rebates for installing EV chargers.
Poppe, who worked at General Motors for 15 years, sees EVs as a way to reduce electric use during peak demand periods, reducing the need to build power plants, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and saving money.
Before becoming CMS Energy president and CEO in 2016, Poppe was vice president of distribution operations, engineering and transmission.
Poppe worked for DTE Energy, a utility based in Detroit, for five years and before that she worked at General Motors.
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