CMS Energy's Poppe resigns, Rochow named new CEO, president

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

CMS Energy said Wednesday its top executive has resigned to take the helm of an embattled California energy company, effective Dec. 1.

Patti Poppe, who has served as the president and CEO of both CMS Energy and its Consumers Energy division since 2016, has been named CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the Jackson-based utility company said.

Patti Poppe

It also said Garrick Rochow, who is currently CMS Energy's executive vice president of operations, will succeed Poppe.

"Garrick's leadership approach, vast industry and company expertise will take CMS Energy and Consumers Energy to the next level," John Russell, chairman of the CMS Energy Board of Directors, said in a statement. "You can count on CMS Energy to have consistent and predictable performance because of our strong succession planning and the quality of our executive team. I wish Patti the best of luck."

Poppe also praised her successor.

"Since 2011, I have considered CMS Energy as my home and my co-workers as my family and I will miss everyone immensely," Poppe said in a statement. "Garrick is a world class leader and will continue to deliver on the triple bottom line of people, planet and prosperity as we have for many years now."

Rochow, 46, is a 17-year CMS Energy employee and has more than 20 years of experience in the energy industry. He has served as executive vice president since 2016. 

"I am honored to have the opportunity to lead a company with amazing co-workers who make a difference every day for our customers, investors and the communities we serve," Rochow said. "I look forward to continuing our strong operational and financial performance, while creating an environment that keeps our customers and co-workers safe, reflects our culture and is inclusive and respectful of everyone."

CMS Energy provides natural gas and/or electricity to 6.7 million of Michigan's 10 million residents in all 68 Lower Peninsula counties.

Garrick Rochow

Poppe was thrown into the spotlight last year when a fire at a key natural gas plant in Macomb County crippled production. The facility supplies 64% of the natural gas in Michigan and Poppe asked customers to curtail their usage in January and continuing the rest of the winter while repairs were made.

More: Consumers CEO warns of brief shutoffs if thermostats don't drop

MoreConsumers Energy: Equipment maintenance didn't cause Jan. 30 fire

Two months later, the company's investigation into the fire's cause determined a series of events led to the fire.

Poppe also has been an advocate for the state of Michigan, serving as a member of the Detroit Regional Chamber's board of directors since 2016 and chaired its annual Mackinac Policy Conference in 2019. She's also recruited events and speakers from FIRST Robotics.

Poppe will take over for PG&E's interim CEO William "Bill" Smith Jan. 4.

"Patti is an exceptional leader with the experience, drive, and character to lead PG&E through its next chapter," Robert Flexon, chairman of PG&E's Board of Directors, said in a statement. "She knows the utility industry top to bottom and has a deep understanding of what it takes to provide safe, reliable, affordable, and clean energy to millions of customers."

Poppe said she is eager to join and get to know the PG&E team.

"I am honored by this appointment and look forward to working alongside PG&E's 23,000 employees to deliver for our customers in Northern and Central California," Poppe said in a statement issued by PG&E. "As California's largest utility, PG&E has the privilege of powering one of the world's largest economies and the opportunity to help lead the state's clean energy future."

Based in San Francisco, PG&E serves 16 million Californians across a 70,000-square-mile area in Northern and Central California. The utility has been under fire in recent years after it was determined aging equipment sparked several major wildfires in recent years, including a 2018 blaze that destroyed much of the town of Paradise and killed 85 people.

The utility pleaded guilty in June to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter — one death was ruled a suicide — and paid $25.5 billion in settlements to cover the losses from that and other recent power line-sparked catastrophes.

On Tuesday, Sonoma County and several Northern California agencies sued the utility over damage caused by a wildfire that burned a large swath of land last year and caused nearly 100,000 people to flee.

The Kincade Fire scorched 121 square miles and destroyed nearly 400 homes and other buildings in October 2019. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection later determined that the blaze was ignited by a PG&E-owned transmission line.

The utility previously told the California Public Utilities Commission that it had discovered a broken “jumper cable” on a high-voltage tower in the area where the fire started.

The lawsuit alleges that PG&E's negligence caused the fire and it was legally responsible for the damage, KTVU-TV reported. The plaintiffs said in a press release that public agencies are entitled to damages “for injury to and loss of public resources, including but not limited to land, roads, and environmental resources."

In a statement, PG&E said the affected transmission line “was inspected multiple times in 2019 as part of our Wildfire Safety Inspection Program — inspectors both climbed the tower and performed an inspection by reviewing photographs taken by an aerial drone." It said any safety issues discovered “were resolved prior to the Kincade Fire with the exception of one, which related to the painting of the tower.”

Staff Writer Breana Noble and the Associated Press contributed

Twitter: @CharlesERamirez