ESG: Beth Straka


WEC Energy Group

Fortnightly Magazine - November 8 2021

Electric Power, Arizona Public Service, Evergy, Northwestern Energy, PPL Corporation, WEC Energy Group, and Xcel Energy, as outlined below by execs from these companies, have quite decisively accelerated their progress on ESG priorities, through investment, innovation, and a clear intent to be recognized as leaders in ESG at the same time that they continue to deliver safe, reliable, and affordable utility service to the communities that depend upon them, powerfully.

PUF's Steve Mitnick: What are some of the most important issues you all are working on in the ESG area?

Beth Straka: For WEC Energy Group, ESG is not just a phrase or buzzword, we are truly implementing it into everything we do. On the environmental front, we have among the most aggressive, near-term carbon reduction goals in the industry, coupled with a strong, renewable generation capital program.

For the ambitious carbon reduction goals — a sixty percent reduction in carbon emissions from electric generation by 2025 and an eighty percent reduction by the end of 2030, off a 2005 base — we have a roadmap to achieve these goals, without the need for any major technological developments.

On the social front, we are supporting our employees and our communities. We have one of the most robust supplier diversity programs in the business.

We achieved a record three hundred three million dollars last year of spending with certified minority, women, veteran, and service-disabled owned businesses. We're continuing to identify ways to attract and retain diverse talent within our company. Forty percent of our management level leaders are of diverse backgrounds — either women or minorities.

Another important area is the work of our charitable giving programs throughout our service territories. Last year, we contributed more than twenty million dollars to non-profit organizations in support of our priority sustainability issues. We are focused on education, community and neighborhood development, arts and culture, health and human services, and the environment.

Our giving this past year included more than two million dollars to the front lines aiding in the COVID-19 relief efforts, whether hospitals, food banks, or shelters.

The governance element has always been first and foremost and that starts with consistently strong financial and operating performance.

We have a strong board that embraces governance best practices and risk oversight. We have been particularly focused on board refreshment the past few years. It's not only the importance of ensuring our board remains diverse from a gender or ethnicity perspective, but in terms of expertise they bring.

We have welcomed a number of new board members over the past few years. Nearly half now are women and minorities. They're bringing a fresh perspective on important areas, including cybersecurity, public policy, customer care, and other priority sustainability issues outlined in our corporate responsibility report.

From an investor's perspective, we are an ESG momentum play.

PUF: Give some of the details of what makes this an ESG momentum play?

Beth Straka: It starts and ends with an overarching theme of affordable, reliable, and clean. While every electric utility is talking about transitioning their fleets, we need to focus on maintaining affordability, reliability, and a clean energy future — those three need to work together.

You can't focus on one without thinking about the other. As an industry we learned a valuable lesson earlier this year, in February, when we had extreme circumstances that cost lives in other parts of the country. I'm pleased to tell you that we, no pun intended, weathered through that extreme situation because of the diversity in our generation fleet.

While it's important to continue to accelerate our fleet transition with all of our sources, whether it be coal, natural gas, or hydro, we need to work through this in a thoughtful manner.

We've retired one thousand eight hundred and forty megawatts already. We have another fourteen hundred megawatts in the queue for retirement in the 2023, 2024 timeframe.

Our ultimate goal is to exit coal at some point in the future, but that transition needs to be done in a thoughtful manner where we're not risking reliability. We will continue to navigate through this as we transition our fleet to low carbon and new renewable resources.

PUF: What kind of feedback are you getting as to your ESG progress plan?

Beth Straka: It's been overwhelmingly positive by all key stakeholders including customers, policymakers, regulators, and the investment community.

Establishing our new, even more ambitious carbon emissions goals this year, has been well received because it demonstrates to our ESG investing community that we will not become complacent. We'll continue to assess technology to continue our progress.

When I reflect upon where we stood in 2005 in terms of energy we delivered to our utility customers, seventy-three percent came from coal. In 2020, that number was down to thirty-six percent.

By 2030, we're expecting that only eight percent of our electric supply will be coal-based. At the same time our renewable energy is growing. In 2020 it was six percent, but by the end of 2030 it will grow to thirty-nine percent.

Our opportunity now is to remind key constituents of the progress we have made, as we continue to work toward a brighter, cleaner energy future.

PUF: What do you find most rewarding in this work?

Beth Straka: Being part of a highly collaborative effort that builds upon a sustainable future for the company in every respect is rewarding. The effort is led by the Office of the Chair and our other senior officers that I'm pleased to work with daily.

I rely heavily upon our environmental team, who I can count on for technological expertise and knowledge of many of the questions we receive from ESG stakeholders.

Across the board, we rely on our generation, fuels, and human resource team members, and our legal team.

After thirty years in the industry, I'm finding it gratifying to see we are focused on the right things for the right reasons. We have homed in on what truly is most important for having an enduring enterprise.

It's at the same time focusing on environmental concerns and keeping customers at the forefront of all the decisions we are making, whether reliability, safety, or affordability. It's a privilege to be at the epicenter of so many decisions.


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