New CEO hire is a bold step for local utility co-op Holy Cross Energy
Who’s Bryan Hannegan?
• Led research and development teams at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
• Co-founded the U.S. Department of Energy’s Grid Modernization Laboratory.
• Senior advisor to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
EAGLE COUNTY — Bryan Hannegan wasn’t really looking for a new job — until he started talking to a pair of Holy Cross Energy’s elected board members. Now, Hannegan’s ready to take the reins of the regional utility.
Hannegan was recently named Holy Cross’s new president and CEO. He’ll start work in late June. He’ll be the fifth CEO in the utility’s 78-year history and will replace Del Worley, who has spent the past decade in the top job.
Worley has spent a total of 25 years at Holy Cross. His path to the CEO’s job is normal for those who head utility companies. Hannegan has taken a different route. He’s currently wrapping up his work at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden.
For the past four years, Hannegan has been building a business around new systems and electric grid integration. In essence, the project is a miniature electric grid, including everything needed to operate a utility.
That mini-grid is a place to test new technologies, something utilities are unwilling to do when customers want the lights to come on when they get home.
“Utilities don’t like to experiment on their systems,” Hannegan said. “But there’s new technology out there, and entrepreneurs need a place to test.”
The Golden facility is as close as anyone can come to building an actual utility system to test those technologies.
A conversation, an opportunity
In the fall of 2016, Hannegan was the keynote speaker at the Rocky Mountain Utility Exchange in Aspen. Holy Cross board members Adam Palmer and Dave Munk were at that event and were impressed with what they heard.
The board then was looking for a new CEO, since Worley had given a roughly two-year notice of his intent to retire.
The three started to talk. It didn’t take long for Hannegan to become a candidate for the job.
“It was an unprecedented opportunity for me and a bold move on the part of the board,” Hannegan said.
It’s especially true since Hannegan hadn’t run a utility company before (although Holy Cross is technically a co-op, owned by its customers).
Palmer said making a bold move was possible because of the strong foundation laid by Worley and the rest of the Holy Cross team.
Worley “has been a great leader, and it will be a loss that’s deeply felt,” Palmer said. “But the organization is in a good place.”
And, Palmer added, Hannegan has had plenty of experience in leading day-to-day operations. He also has a detailed knowledge of safety, Palmer said, adding that Hannegan has a good feel for Holy Cross’s customers.
And that customer base is a diverse group. The service area includes most of Pitkin and Eagle counties, as well as parts of Garfield, Mesa and Gunnison counties. Customers include old-line ranchers, newly arrived environmentalists and, notably, the Aspen Skiing Co. and Vail Resorts, both of which use large amounts of electricity.
Hannegan is “well-spoken and comfortable with customers and linemen,” Palmer said. He’ll be a good leader to improve Holy Cross’s community involvement, he said.
A unanimous choice
Board member Kristen Bertuglia said every member of Holy Cross’s seven-member board voted to hire Hannegan.
“He immediately recognized the need to maintain the values all our membership has in common,” Bertuglia said. “That’s service, our history, our rates … people appreciate those things.”
The challenge, Bertuglia said, will be to do the current job and add and expand innovative programs regarding efficiency and home and business solar energy.
Citing Hannegan’s experience at the renewable energy lab, Bertuglia said the new CEO is a “source to new ideas. He knows where the technology is, what will work and what won’t.”
Echoing Palmer’s comments about the existing organization, Bertuglia said Holy Cross is fortunate in its current health.
“We’re not hiring someone to turn the organization around,” Bertuglia said. Credit for that goes to Worley and the existing team, she added.
Hannegan said he’s keenly aware of what the board, and customers, want.
“We have to find solutions that get reliability, affordability and sustainability all as one package,” Hannegan said. “If you do the first two right, then you can think about making it more sustainable.”
One challenge will be deciding how much energy to purchase from large-scale wind and solar providers, and how to distribute more energy production to homes and businesses in the utility’s service area.
Another challenge will be building up the resilience of Holy Cross’s grid. More distributed production can help ease potential outages, but resilience includes both reliability and communications, Hannegan said.
One of the essential questions in the coming years — and with increasing reliance on interconnected systems — is how to overcome the loss of a critical piece of equipment or technology.
“It’s no different than outage management,” he said. “We don’t want one part of the grid to take down everything else.”
But everything builds on what Holy Cross provides now, Hannegan said.
“Everywhere I go, people I talk to say, ‘You’re doing a great job,’” Hannegan said. “We want to improve on that.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com and @scottnmiller.