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Gale Klappa, Executive Chairman of WEC Energy Group, Speaks Exclusively to The Silicon Review: ‘Our Mission is Clear, and it can be Summed up in Three Words — Affordable, Reliable, And Clean’

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“I see a very bright future not only for our company, but for the future of energy in general.”

WEC Energy Group (NYSE: WEC) is one of the nation’s premier energy companies, serving 4.6 million customers in Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota.

The company’s principal utilities are We Energies, Wisconsin Public Service, Peoples Gas, North Shore Gas, Michigan Gas Utilities, Minnesota Energy Resources, and Upper Michigan Energy Resources. Another major subsidiary, We Power, designs, builds and owns electric generating plants. In addition, WEC owns a growing fleet of renewable generation facilities in the Midwest.

WEC Energy Group is a Fortune 500 company and a component of the S&P 500. The company has approximately 41,000 stockholders of record, 7,200 employees, and more than $37 billion of assets. The company is based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

In 2020, WEC Energy Group was named one of America’s most responsible companies by Newsweek magazine and a company subsidiary, We Energies, was named the most reliable utility in the Midwest — the 10th consecutive year for this honor. In 2021, a national study named We Energies the most trusted energy company in America by business customers while WEC Energy Group was honored with the Milwaukee Business Journal ‘2021 Diversity in Business Award’ in recognition of the group’s support for diversity and inclusion, both in the workplace and in its supply chain.

To highlight and further understand what WEC Energy Group stands for and seeks to explore in this segment, I sat down with Gale Klappa, who serves as the group’s Executive Chairman. Below is an excerpt.

“We provide vital energy services — natural gas and electricity — that fuel the economy across the upper middle-western region of the United States. Our mission is clear, and it can be summed up in three words — affordable, reliable, and clean. So with those three criteria as essential to what we do, we only invest in technology that is fully tested and fully capable of meeting our standards for reliability.”

“We’re fortunate to have a highly qualified staff that tracks developments in technology. In fact, we have in the past conducted experiments on various emerging technologies, such as carbon capture. But our goal is really to track technology and only implement it into our capital investment plan and our operational plans when we are confident that the technology meets those three key criteria — affordable, reliable, and clean.”

“We try to improve our environmental footprint, lower emissions, and provide clean energy to our customers. Needless to say, we’re  seeing more and more renewable energy coming into our power generation fleet.”

Stepping up to Meet Growing Customer Demand

As the cost and effectiveness of renewable energy has continued to improve, WEC Energy Group has become the largest owner and operator of wind farms in the state of Wisconsin, and the group has introduced — for the first time — large-scale solar technology into its generation mix.

“Last year, we brought into service one of the largest new solar parks east of the Rocky Mountains here in the United States. We’re also incorporating battery technology into our plans — battery technology for storing electricity and then releasing or providing that electricity to customers during the highest periods of demand. That technology has improved tremendously over the past decade. Costs have come down as much as 80 percent. These utility-scale batteries are capable of providing energy for a four-hour period. Again, that’s helpful to us as we try to meet customer demand for electricity on the hottest summer days and the coldest winter days.”

Strengthening Deep Decarbonization Efforts

WEC Energy Group has emerged as a national leader in the decarbonization effort with some of the most aggressive emission reduction goals in the utility industry.

“We try to improve our environmental footprint, lower emissions, and provide clean energy to our customers. Needless to say, we’re seeing more and more renewable energy coming into our power generation fleet.”

“We’re retiring older, less-efficient coal-fired power plants, and other power plants to help reduce CO2 emissions. We’re also reducing methane emissions from our natural gas distribution networks. So the clear trend is in retiring less-efficient power generation sources and replacing that energy-producing capacity with renewables and battery storage.”

WEC Energy Group is targeting a 60 percent reduction in carbon emissions from electric generation by 2025 and an 80 percent reduction by the end of 2030, both below 2005 levels.

“As we look out to the year 2050, the target for our generation fleet remains net-zero carbon. We believe we can achieve our 2025 and 2030 emissions goals without any new technological developments. We expect the percentage of our revenue and asset base that is tied to coal will be less than 10 percent at the end of 2025.”

Importantly, investments in natural gas infrastructure are improving the company’s methane footprint as well as safety and reliability. As a result, “we also set a new goal to achieve net-zero methane emissions across our natural gas distribution operations by the end of 2030.”

Building High-Impact Roadmap to Boost Energy Economy

Simply put, WEC Energy Group has much greater access to technology that can help drive a clean, bright energy future. Secondly, the company is all set to be the lead player in powering economic growth, given how it has positioned itself in the industry.

“I see a very bright future not only for our company, but for the future of energy in general.”

“You simply cannot have a growing economy with high-quality jobs that continue to improve the quality of life for everyone without an incredibly reliable, affordable, and clean energy network. So, we’re excited about the future. Technologies will be different. But the mission will stay the same: To be as reliable as we possibly can be. To be as clean as we possibly can be. And provide affordable service to continue to fuel the growth of the economy.”

“As we move forward, we have developed the largest 5-year investment plan in our history. We call it the ESG Progress Plan. The plan has a strong focus on newer, but proven technologies.”

Gale Klappa | A Responsible Leader

Gale Klappa has more than 40 years of experience working in the public utility industry, the last 26 at a senior executive level. From May 2004, Mr. Klappa served as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Wisconsin Energy and We Energies. Under his leadership, the company completed its June 2015 acquisition of Integrys Energy Group, at which time he assumed those same roles for WEC Energy Group. Mr. Klappa was appointed Executive Chairman and to the Office of the Chair of WEC Energy Group by the board of directors on Feb. 1, 2019, a position he continues to hold today.

Before joining the company, Mr. Klappa served in various executive leadership roles at Southern Co., a public utility holding company serving the southeastern United States. With his extensive experience in the business operations and C-suite leadership of publicly regulated utilities, his service as a board member for two other public companies, and his contributions to significant economic development initiatives in southeastern Wisconsin, Mr. Klappa leads the company and board with a deep understanding of the investment decisions and public policy issues facing large public companies.

Mr. Klappa is a member of the board of directors of Associated Banc-Corp and Badger Meter Inc. He is co-chair of the Milwaukee 7 – a regional economic development initiative. In addition, he owns a minority interest in the 2021 world champion Milwaukee Bucks – a National Basketball Association franchise.

Mr. Klappa has received numerous personal awards, including ‘Wisconsin Business Leader of the Year’ by the Harvard Business School Club of Wisconsin, ‘Responsible CEO of the Year’ by Corporate Responsibility Magazine, and ‘CEO of the Year’ by CEO Monthly Magazine.

However, Mr. Klappa’s proudest professional achievements are the ones he shares with the company. In recent years, the company has received numerous prestigious awards.

There may be no better phrase that defines Mr. Klappa and his leadership than four simple words: focused on the fundamentals. Day in and day out, Mr. Klappa reinforces a strategy to create long-term value by focusing on the fundamentals: safety, world-class reliability, operating efficiency, financial discipline, and customer care.

“I believe that the core responsibility of a leader is to define the company’s mission and to clearly articulate what success looks like – so that every employee understands their role in creating lasting value for the enterprise. Every successful leader has a set of core values. For me, that list of values starts with integrity, customer focus, a sense of urgency, financial discipline, and taking personal responsibility for results.”