We recently sat down with IREAâ€™s new Chief Executive Officer, Jeff Baudier, to discuss a variety of topics regarding his new role and the association. The following is edited for length and clarity.
Can you tell us a little bit about your professional background?
Iâ€™ve been in the energy industry for pretty much my entire career. I started out in the oil and gas business [and] really went into the electricity business in the early 2000s. My entire experience in the electric industry has been around serving â€“ municipalities, cooperatives â€¦ those areas of the customer market that were outside of the intense, large city populations served by [investor-owned] utilities. Coming to IREA was a very natural transition for me because I had depth of experience [from] all those years with the cooperatives. Having spent time at both a wholesale power supplier [and] a regulated retail company allowed me to see all the different aspects of the electricity business. That is part of the perspective that I think is going to help move IREA forward.
Why did you choose IREA?
When I found out about this job, I came after [it]. Early on in my career, when I was serving co-ops, I thought becoming a co-op CEO [is] something I would really like to do. But the opportunities are extremely rare. The more I learned about [IREA] and the more I researched, I just said, â€˜This is not like a typical co-op.â€™ Itâ€™s not a rural co-op. Itâ€™s a very sophisticated utility business that happens to be organized as a co-op. This creates a platform to demonstrate something Iâ€™ve always believed, which is that the co-op model is just as valid â€“ if not a better model â€“ for the utility industry than the investor-owned utility model. That has a lot to do with the way the industry is changing towards giving customers more control â€“ over how they take their service, over when they take [it], how much they pay for it, what resources it comes from. The model that already gives customers the greatest control over the product they consume is the co-op, because [the members] effectively own the company.
What are your impressions of IREA so far?
Very good. The reception from the employees has been incredible. The association is in a very strong position, and its connection to its members is very strong. One of the things [that] I donâ€™t believe IREA has done as much of is telling [its] story to the outside world and making sure that everybody knows who we are and what we are. Weâ€™re the largest [electric] co-op in Colorado and one of the largest in the country. We should be a thought leader on driving policy and best practices across the industry. Thereâ€™s no reason why we canâ€™t do that.
How would you explain to IREAâ€™s members the value of being part of an electric cooperative?
The co-op model, in which the actual margins of operating the company are returned back to the member owners who are the actual consumers of the product, is, by far, the best model. If we do it in the way we should be doing it, our customers would always do better than municipal customers and regulated utility customers. Itâ€™s up to us to deliver that value to the members.
What are some of the biggest challenges IREA is facing?
I donâ€™t think they would necessarily surprise anyone. They are power supply, transmission organization and Comanche 3. â€¦ The biggest challenge weâ€™re facing is that coming up in 2026, we have to basically revamp our power supply. We have a challenged market in which weâ€™re doing it because we donâ€™t have an RTO or an organized transmission market. â€¦ We need to fight to make sure we get a transmission organization and more of a wholesale market structure put in place here that do, for the future, give us more options and donâ€™t tie us completely to Xcelâ€™s transmission system or Tri-State for our transmission generation resources. Comanche 3 [also] is a big challenge. It hasnâ€™t operated the way we hoped it would, and itâ€™s had even more specific challenges this past year. â€¦ We have to negotiate with our partners in that plant to get the best resolution for our members.
What do you see as some of the best opportunities facing IREA?
There are quite a few, but the biggest one I have identified is the ability to actively pursue more commercial and industrial load and develop a real economic development function. Weâ€™re growing at an incredibly fast speed and the amount of new hookups is unmatched at any utility in the country â€“ co-op or non-co-op. Nobodyâ€™s growing at the pace that our customer base is growing. â€¦ If we really create that expertise within [IREA] and start actually going out and pursuing working with site selectors and economic development groups within our service territory and actually determine the types of large commercial loads that we want to bring, we can attract those loads. Those have a dramatic impact on reducing our member rates across the board because it would start balancing out some of our heavy residential load with more commercial load.
What excites you about IREA?
The people. One of the things I love about this job is that I feel like I canâ€™t wait to get here in the morning. I have a few minutes to get myself caught up and get ready and figure out what we got for the day. Then there will come a period of time â€“ and it usually starts pretty early â€“ where thereâ€™s just a steady stream of conversations. Those conversations all relate to problems weâ€™ve got to solve and issues we have to deal with. I look up [what seems like] a few minutes later and itâ€™s 6 oâ€™clock and Iâ€™m just like, where did the day go? â€¦ I just canâ€™t figure out where the days go because Iâ€™m having so much fun just talking to everybody and getting to know everybody and figuring out what [they] are working on and learning about the business and the people. Iâ€™m excited about getting up and getting in here and seeing whatâ€™s going to happen today. I plan on making this a place [where] â€“ if people donâ€™t already feel like that â€“ I want everybody to feel like that every day. I want everybody to be as excited as I am about coming in every day and seeing what we can do in the future.
How do you think IREA can be a better ally or partner in the community?
Our members, as citizens of the communities in which we live and work, should be looking to us to be one of the biggest citizens of that community. â€¦ At the festivals, at the sponsorships, with economic development, with supporting local business and partnering with local businesses, IREA is going to be at the forefront of that. Itâ€™s going to be at the core of every part of life, whether it be you getting your power every day or seeing us do a partnership with the grocery store that you shop at every day, but that also happens to be one of our largest customers. â€¦ [Weâ€™re] here to serve the members and thereâ€™s no other utility structure that has such a direct connection to the consumers.
What is your vision for IREAâ€™s future?
First, weâ€™ll be the premier electric utility in Colorado. Weâ€™re very close to that now. Maybe we are, and people just donâ€™t know it. â€¦ If we keep growing at the rate that weâ€™re growing and we pursue the opportunities in front of us, I see no reason why in the next seven to eight years we canâ€™t be in the top five co-ops in the country. â€¦ All the ingredients are already here. Thereâ€™s no magic to me, in the sense that Iâ€™m going to bring something that IREA doesnâ€™t already have. I think someone just needs to pull the string and open the box and let this place explode and let everyone here demonstrate what theyâ€™re capable of doing. Thereâ€™s no limit to where we can go.