Though you might not think about it much, the energy infrastructure that powers so many of the things we rely on is under constant threat — from extreme weather to security concerns. And as the effects of climate change challenge the energy production sector, the utilities charged with producing that energy sustainably, equitably and affordably are at an inflection point.
The Chicago-based utility operator Exelon also reached an inflection point at the end of 2022, when Calvin Butler was named president and CEO of the giant conglomeration of utility companies. Butler has been with Exelon in various roles since 2008.
Butler said he’s taking action to move ComEd and parent company Exelon beyond the shadow of an alleged bribe scheme involving former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. ComEd agreed to a $200 million fine to settle those charges, and a trial date for Madigan has not yet been set.
Butler detailed measures Exelon put in place to ensure similar behavior does not recur at Exelon or its utilities.
“The first thing we did, we went out and hired a compliance officer who had a securities background,” Butler said. “He put in plans — not just at ComEd — he put in a program across all of our utilities, and we did an audit of each of our businesses to ensure conduct that was alleged was not occurring in any other parts of the business. And I’m pleased to tell you it wasn’t. We put in those robust programs, and now they’re a model for other companies across the country. As a matter of fact, in the legislation that was passed about a year and a half ago here in Illinois, the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, they took most of ComEd’s compliance efforts and put them into legislation. We’re proud of that.”
With attacks on energy grids occurring in other parts of the U.S., Butler said Exelon is making security upgrades to facilities a priority.
“We invest tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars into the security — not just the physical security but the cyber security of the grid,” he said. “Because we know there’s bad actors who want to attack the system. We’re investing in our IT systems, we’re investing in our cameras, we’re investing and fencing in some of your neighborhood. You may go by a substation one day, and it looks relatively vanilla, but then you go back, the next thing you see is high-security fencing around it. Those are the efforts that we undertake to ensure that the grid is protected and we’re constantly monitoring it.”
Butler said Exelon splitting its power plant operations into a Constellation Energy in 2022 positions Exelon well for transitioning to renewable energy sources.
“We’re agnostic to what power the power comes from, whether it’s nuclear, solar, wind, hydro,” Butler said. “My job is to deliver reliably and affordably. Build the infrastructure to protect the grid and make the grid more resilient — that’s my job each and every day. And that’s what we focus on.”
The new role Butler calls “an honor” makes him one of just seven Black Fortune 500 CEOs. He credits his rise to the top of Exelon with others making investments in his success — and he said he wants to create space for others to follow in his footsteps.
“What am I doing to ensure that the grounds are being made fertile for others to follow behind me?” he said. “I recognize the responsibility, and my responsibility’s first to the 18,000 men and women of Exelon, but then also to be representative in the communities that we serve.”