Megan Sall Rydecki comes to Consumers Energy amid major short- and long-term changes at the state’s largest energy provider. Not only is the company in the early stages of a sweeping 20-year transition to clean energy, but its charismatic leader, President and CEO Patti Poppe, last week announced a new job leading California’s largest utility, PG&E Corp., effective Dec. 1. As community affairs manager for Kent County, Rydecki will act as a liaison between Consumers and local governments and businesses. The West Michigan native joins the utility after serving nearly four years as deputy city manager of Wyoming and previously as business development manager at The Right Place Inc. Rydecki also chairs the Grand Valley State University Board of Trustees. Three days into her new role, she spoke with MiBiz about her priorities, informing the community about Consumers’ long-term plans and Poppe’s legacy at the company.
It’s only your third day on the job, but what are your priorities and job duties as you get started?
My role is really to connect the community back to Consumers as an organization and make sure Consumers’ policies, programs and opportunities are fully represented back to the community. For me it’s figuring out how Consumers can best support Kent County.
First and foremost, (the utility) powers everything. It’s fun to be part of an organization that literally touches everyone’s life. It’s not unlike municipal government where a lot of the things you do people take for granted, but in an OK way. People aren’t thinking about the roads they’re driving on or the water coming out of their tap. Everything is functioning well and allows you to go on with life. It’s the same with electricity.
How did you interact with Consumers in your previous roles in local government and economic development?
I was fortunate to be partners in a lot of different ways. When I worked at The Right Place, very often when working with businesses, Consumers would come to the table. If there was a new prospect coming to town, what kind of (electricity) load would that company need, infrastructure and what could we use to enable that company to come to town? For a lot of the businesses we worked with, industrial space is hard to find out there. How could they retrofit existing spaces or improve operations and grow where they’re at? We’d bring in Consumers, whether it was LED lighting change-outs or with peak demand programs — just figuring out the best way to run operations with rate structures. There was a lot of crossover working with businesses in the area.
From a local standpoint, there’s street lighting, tree trimming and what happens after a major storm. Consumers is a key partner when it comes to those kinds of things.
What are emerging issues you see in Kent County that would involve the utility?
Whether it’s an emerging issue or a present priority, Consumers has a clean energy plan they’re moving toward to reduce 90 percent of carbon emissions and reach net zero by 2040. Consumers is a strong partner with the city of Grand Rapids, which has a goal to be operating primarily off renewables by 2025. One priority is the continued shift to renewable sources and what that looks like for communities so we can bring a clean energy future for everyone.
Consumers also has resources they’re able to commit, both from employees volunteering in the community and foundation support. I look at things like housing, people experiencing homelessness and food security — those are conversations Consumers wants to be a part of as well. As an energy provider, when the community is successful, the company is successful.
Many perceive utilities as these big companies that simply exist to provide energy, and don’t give much thought to their business plans. But how do you see the company’s clean energy plan affecting communities?
A big part of that will be education and helping people understand where our energy comes from, how it’s generated and what it means to everyday life. And how can we use the best resources of energy to make sure we can commit to sustainable futures for everyone who lives in West Michigan. I think the primary role is really going to be education, helping people understand where we’re going and why it’s important.
The average resident doesn’t have time to wake up in the morning, think about their energy usage, where the energy comes from and how they’ll reduce consumption. Consumers has been really dedicated over the last several years to get closer to the customer and client side of things to provide more programming and education.
How did you perceive Patti Poppe as an executive and what type of legacy do you think she leaves with the company?
Patti was one of the reasons I came to the company. Her leadership and reputation precedes her. For everyone I know, she’s spoken of as a rock star and a game changer — all those terms are correct from what I’ve seen.
The legacy I think she will leave is really founded around the culture she has instilled in the organization. She has worked so hard to instill (a caring culture and focus on people) in the organization to make people feel like they’re seen and heard when they show up to work everyday. It’s tough to see her go to PG&E Corp., but we also know PG&E is a company that needs her now and the people that it serves need her.