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When the country elected President Donald Trump, who promised he would save the coal industry, then-DTE Energy Co. CEO Gerry Anderson had a decision to make.

“There were a lot of questions about the future of energy, particularly the environment,” said Anderson, who in June stepped down after nine years as CEO to become the Detroit-based utility’s executive chairman. “There were a lot of questions being asked about if we were going to go backwards.”

Instead, Anderson and DTE became leaders for a greener energy future with plans that would eliminate coal as a power source. In 2017, the company said it would decrease carbon emissions 80% from 2005 levels by 2050. In March, DTE accelerated that goal to 2040.

More: Meet the 2019 Michiganians of the Year

“I knew what the future looked like for us, and I believe for the industry it felt like a time when there were voices that needed to step out and say, ‘Hey, this is what we are going to do and this is what we believe is possible and where we should go,’” said Anderson, 61.

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As the executive chairman of DTE Energy, Gerry Anderson feels a corporate responsibility to help with rebuilding the health of the middle class. Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

“Climate change is real. It’s an incredibly important public policy issue, and we’re right in the middle of it. It’s a responsibility for us.”

That public commitment has led other electricity producers around the country to take similar steps to reduce their carbon outputs.

“It was a voluntary commitment, and one of the first ones,” said Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, the association for U.S. investor-owned electric companies that Anderson will lead in a few years after other industry leaders in June elected him as its vice chairman. “It was a significant one, and it paved the way for companies to make similar commitments."

By 2040, up to 50% of DTE’s electricity will come from renewables, another 20% from carbon-free nuclear power and the rest from natural gas.

To get there, though, Anderson, who joined DTE in 1993, said he had to do the research on climate change and the math on alternatives to DTE's aging coal plants.

“I had to convince myself for my company that we could pull this off," he said. "Fortunately, technology also was serving up the tools to deal with it.”

Anderson's new role focuses on outreach in DTE's communities and at the state and federal levels. That includes activities through organizations such as the Detroit Economic Club, which he chairs.

“Gerry looks for opportunities to positively impact people’s lives and community well-being,” said Steve Grigorian, the club's CEO. “I find him to be a thoughtful, strategic and deliberate thinker.”

Name: Gerard M. Anderson

Age: 61

Occupation: DTE Energy Co. executive chairman

Education: Earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at the University of Notre Dame as well as master’s degrees in business administration and public policy from the University of Michigan

Family: Wife Lizann; three adult sons

Why honored: Under Anderson, DTE has led the electricity industry toward a greener energy future by committing to closing its coal plants and upping its percentage of renewables.

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