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RUSSELL RECALLS: Bay City, Central High Football Impressed Consumers Chief

Utility CEO Presiding Over Massive Shift to Clean Energy

May 28, 2014       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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CEO John Russell of Consumers Power is welcomed by, from left, Dom Monastiere, Paul Rowley, Eileen Curtis and Jeff Mayes.
George Puia conducts workshop on the Chamber's 10-year "Road Map to the Future."

Bay City really impresses some visitors.

John Russell of Consumers Energy Co., keynote speaker at the annual Bay Area On the Go extravaganza of the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, says he plans to come back to Bay City often.

He is impressed by what he sees -- especially at Uptown, where his firm last year put up $5.5 million to relocate the unsightly trans-riverine electrical towers and lines and turned the project over to the developers for $1.

He first was impressed when as a high school football player at Birmingham Brother Rice, he made a trip to Engel Stadium at Bay City Central where the Wolves beat his team. "Those big Central linemen, I'll never forget them," he recalled.

(Actually, Central beat brother Rice twice, 14-0 in 1974 and 36-0 in 1975, both under Coach Oarie Lemanski who had succeeded Elmer Engel in 1973.)

Russell is president and chief executive officer of CMS Energy and its principal subsidiary, Consumers Energy, which serves 1.8 million electric customers and 1.7 million natural gas customers. The company has annual revenues of $6.3 billion, assets totaling $17.1 billion and 7,100 employees.

Consumers, the largest utility in Michigan, was lauded by Chamber President Mike Seward for a $1 billion investment in retrofitting the iconic Karn-Weadock generating facility at the mouth of the river for air quality control.

Other On the Go annual awards went to:

  • Dr. Sam Shaheen and SSP Associates and Donald Sheets, CEO of Dow Corning, for their collaboration on $100 million Uptown project;

  • Paul and Peggy Rowley and Randy Sherman of Three Rivers Construction for their $7.5 million Mill End Lofts, a 49,000 square foot residential and business complex at Center Avenue and Water Street;

  • Lormax-Stern for reconfiguration of six retail spaces in the Bay City Mall to accommodate Marshall's department store, new tenants and a 9,000 square foot expansion of the Bay City 10 Theatres; Manager Barb Behmlander hinted at more to come with her statement: "all I can say is we'll be moving the mall offices;"

    "This project (Uptown) reflects Dow Corning's commitment to the Bay region," said Mr. Sheets. Some 300-400 employees will begin moving into the new building at Uptown in July, he said, adding that more people from his firm want to be located at the Bay City office than can be accommodated.

    Dr. Shaheen encouraged Chamber members to "talk up the Uptown project, that hopefully will attract more partners."

    Mr. Rowley said all 24 units of the Mill End Lofts are rented and lauded support lent by municipal officials and Three Rivers Construction that helped the project get completed on time and on budget. He admitted tackling ambitious projects, commenting: "There is a fine line between vision and stupidity and I have stepped over it several times."

    Mr. Russell said 700-800 tradesmen are at work on environmental improvements to Karn-Weadock that will reduce emissions up to 95 percent.

    Mr. Seward said progress is being made on one of the Chamber goals of beautifying entrances to the city, helped by a $25,000 Dow Chemical Co. grant for floral bulbs. A welcome sign also is in the works, he said.

    Mr. Russell said Consumers is making the second largest capital investment in Michigan, pegged at $7 billion over the next five years, exclaiming: "We're tied to Michigan's success and Michigan is tied to us."

    Seven coal fired generating plants are being retired, a 540 megawatt gas-fired plant is being purchased, the Lake Winds Energy Park on the west side of the state is operating and the $1 billion Cross Winds Energy Park in Tuscola County is under construction.

    "Michigan's air has never been cleaner and mercury emissions have been reduced 80 percent, he said. President Obama's target for alternative energy is 17 percent by 2020 but Consumers aims to reach 25 percent by that year, he added. The firm will achieve 9 percent of its output in renewable energy by year's end, he said.

    Although the coldest winter in 50 years was a bonanza for the utility, breaking two all-time records with no major interruptions, Russell said "your services are still a bargain at an average of $3 a day for electricity and $3.10 a day for gas."

    He also noted that the Pure Michigan nationwide advertising campaign is budgeting $1 billion in spending, including $56 million in the Great Lakes Bay Region, $9 million in Bay County and $7 million in Bay City.

    Previously, Russell was senior vice president of electric transmission and distribution and held several leadership positions in customer operations, electric restructuring and logistics management.

    Russell graduated from Michigan State University with a bachelor's degree in business administration in 1980. In 1994, he completed the Program for Management Development at the Harvard Business School.

    He is a member of the board of directors for both CMS Energy and Consumers Energy. He is a director for Hubbell Incorporated and a member of the Grand Valley State University Board of Trustees. Russell also serves on the boards of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the American Gas Association (AGA), and the Business Leaders for Michigan.

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    Dave Rogers

    Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
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