Corporation of the Year: WEC Energy Group

BizTimes Best in Business 2015

Wisconsin Energy Corp.’s Menomonee Valley power plant.

Wisconsin Energy Corp. completed a massive acquisition this year and significantly grew its employee base and regional reach.

Wisconsin Energy Corp.’s Menomonee Valley power plant.
Wisconsin Energy Corp.’s Menomonee Valley power plant.

The $9 billion acquisition of Chicago-based Integrys Group was the largest non-bank acquisition in Wisconsin history. It was completed June 29, and formed Milwaukee-based company WEC Energy Group.

In recognition of WEC’s transformative move, the company is the BizTimes Best in Business Corporation of the Year for 2015.

With six utilities serving 4.4 million electric and natural gas customers in four states, WEC Energy Group is now one of the largest utilities – and one of the largest corporations – in the country.

“This acquisition was far more about growth than about cost savings,” said Gale Klappa, chairman and chief executive officer of WEC. “The investment needs and the investment opportunities of the combined companies in terms of modernizing the energy infrastructure of the region, those investment needs and those investment opportunities are very significant.”

Wisconsin Energy was planning to invest about $700 million annually in its infrastructure pre-acquisition. Now, the combined company will invest about $1.5 billion per year.

“What we’ve really done a great deal of in the 150 or so days that we’ve had the combined company is really taken a thorough look at all of the projects that are on the drawing board,” to prioritize infrastructure modernization efforts, Klappa said.

In addition, WEC has streamlined some of its executive positions and eliminated some redundant roles to cut costs, he said. The company now has about 8,800 full-time employees.

Gale Klappa
Gale Klappa

“We are basically functionalizing the management under one senior leader,” Klappa said. “In that way, we’re driving best practices across our system, and we’re gaining efficiency.”

WEC has also found other efficiencies afforded by its larger scale, he said.

“With a larger enterprise…we’re finding cost saving opportunities in virtually every area of the business,” Klappa said. “With a larger book of business, and a very good track record in terms of loss control, we were able to save several million dollars in renewing our property and casualty insurance.”

Another example is a major IT project just getting underway to integrate the companies’ ledger systems.

WEC also in 2015 completed a $60 million project to convert its 22-acre Menomonee Valley power plant from coal to natural gas. The project was completed on Nov. 16. The plant is a critical energy resource for Milwaukee, since it provides electricity for the grid, voltage support for the downtown central business district and steam heat for almost every major building downtown.

Klappa said he is also proud of We Energies’ designation as the most reliable utility in the Midwest for the fifth consecutive year by PA Consulting Group, and the largest expansion of the natural gas delivery network in the history of the company recently completed in western Wisconsin.

Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

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