Telesz joins Lignite Energy Council, Montana-Dakota Utilities to talk about ESG factors

three people on a stage
Jason Bohrer, Lignite Energy Council president and CEO, moderates a panel featuring Nicole Kivisto, Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. president and CEO, and Todd Telesz, Basin Electric CEO and general manager, at the Lignite Energy Council Fall Conference.

The Lignite Energy Council Fall Conference Sept. 29-30 hosted a panel discussion on ESG (environmental, social, and governance) factors featuring Todd Telesz, Basin Electric CEO and general manager, and Nicole Kivisto, Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. president and CEO, and moderated by Jason Bohrer, Lignite Energy Council president and CEO.

ESG are the three factors used by rating agencies, investors, and other stakeholders to measure the efforts and impact of a cooperative or company across these three criteria. “We had a good opportunity to talk with two of our members in Nicole and Todd, who can explain ESG and how it applies to our industry. These two companies cover quite large footprints, both from an operational standpoint and from a geographic standpoint,” Bohrer said.

Telesz said the cooperative business model aligns well with the ESG factors. “In social and governance, those two factors are shining stars for us,” he said. “We provide reliable, affordable, and responsible energy to our members. Across our service area, we have areas of lower income, higher unemployment, and poverty rates. Affordable electricity is a driver of quality of life, and reliable energy is critical, especially in our part of the country. … On governance, we probably start out with a 50-yard head start because of how cooperatives are governed and founded. Our board is democratically elected, meaning the people who pay the bill own and govern the cooperative.”

Kivisto said there is a push for more disclosure from the investment community on the environmental front. “Montana-Dakota Utilities is publicly traded, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission regulates our disclosure. They are actively looking at mandatory disclosure,” she said. “When I talk about disclosure, I mean our emissions reduction targets, environmental impacts, our diversity, equity, and inclusion in our employee base including gender and minority diversity. … Our debt and equity investors are looking at this in a different way than they have in the past.”

Telesz said institutional investors are continuously moving toward making no investments in coal over time. “When it comes to environmental, I think the story we have to tell is much better than the headlines because of Basin Electric’s environmental stewardship and innovation. Our stewardship is foundational because it was farmers and ranchers living in rural America who built Basin Electric, and the air, land, and water is critical to their lives and livelihoods,” Telesz said. “How have we executed on that? We have invested $2 billion of our members’ capital into environmental control systems at our power plants around the region. … At our Great Plains Synfuels Plant, we were the first and largest coal-based facility to capture carbon dioxide and have captured 41 million metric tons of carbon dioxide since 2000. Looking forward to innovation, we are working with experts, scientists, and industry leaders to further carbon capture and storage research at our Dry Fork Station in Gillette, Wyoming, through the Wyoming Integrated Test Center and Wyoming CarbonSAFE projects.”

As coal users have addressed environmental impacts over time, Telesz said investors are now looking more closely at sustainability. “There is a desire to have capital become shrunk to an industry that is the largest consumer of capital in this country after banks. It requires us to be much more focused on the relationships we have, on the people who want to do business with us, and make sure they truly understand what we are doing and have done around coal and innovation, and who we are serving and why we exist,” he said.