Spire’s CEO sees STL Pipeline as the path to low-cost gas for the region

Spire’s CEO sees STL Pipeline as the path to low-cost gas for the region

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Every day Spire serves 1.7 million customers, making the company the fifth largest publicly traded natural gas company in the country. The company helps families and business owners fuel their daily lives through its gas utilities serving Alabama, Mississippi and Missouri. Spire’s non-utility operations include Spire Marketing, which provides natural gas marketing and related services. Spire also owns and operates natural gas storage facilities and is pursuing opportunities in natural gas pipelines.

Prior to joining Spire as president and CEO, Suzanne Sitherwood was president of three utilities at AGL Resources serving more than 1.6 million customers. February 1st marked Sitherwood’s six-year anniversary since being named CEO of The Laclede Group (now Spire) in 2012.

Sitherwood leads an organization that believes in possibilities. “Sometimes organizations create their own limitations, and it becomes self-fulfilling and at times destructive, but at Spire we believe there is no limit to what our energy can do,” Sitherwood said. “The key words are we believe. Much has been accomplished, but it’s because we believe, and we’ve taken the journey together.”

Relative to the community, Sitherwood believes St. Louis is one of the best kept secrets around. “We have monumental buildings and neighborhoods, art, parks and places of advanced learning and multiple healthcare systems,” Sitherwood said. “I want to share this positive story and have others believe in the greater good of all those things.”

What attracted you to the energy industry?

I’m a military brat and grew up on military bases, moving every two years of my life. After earning my engineering degree, I became a co-op student at Atlanta Gas Light, which is the gas company in Georgia. It was attractive to me because it felt familiar — it looked like a military base with people in uniforms, trucks moving around, fences and everything painted gray.

As I have grown in the industry, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of the criticality of energy and how it drives the quality of our life, national security and the ability to prosper as communities. Almost 38 years later, I’m very attached to the energy sector; it’s what drives my interest and why I continue the journey.

How has the new Spire name and logo been received?

It’s gone extremely well. I’m very proud of what everyone has done to make that a reality. Our customers, communities and certainly our employees know that we’ve quadrupled in size across our many geographies, and quite frankly, we’ve done that at a staggeringly rapid pace. When we launched the Spire brand for our utilities last fall, we asked all of our employees to become one team, which means one body of people clear on their mission and values.

How has Spire's growth benefitted Missouri?

I like to say there are three big wins for Missouri and for the other areas we serve as well. Due to our significant growth, we now have the scale and efficiencies we didn’t have before. Over the last five years, this has allowed us to create $70 million in cost savings for our Missouri customers. The savings goes right through to customers on their bills, which means our customers in Missouri are paying an equivalent of what they paid 10 years ago, but with improved service. There are not many industries that can say that.

Perhaps you’ve seen the second win as you drive the streets in areas around St. Louis. Our regions look differently today compared to the early 1900s and also the way people use natural gas is different. As a result, we are completely modernizing our natural gas infrastructure in all of our urban regions. This past winter we had some deep-freeze temperatures, and because we had already begun the work to modernize our system, our customers stayed warm.

The third win is modernizing our technology platforms. We are now able to add on the customer-facing pieces. When we launched Spire, we also launched My Account, which gives customers the mobile ability to manage their account from any location.

Can you provide us information on the Spire STL Pipeline?

Currently, we are bringing ‘all’ of the natural gas from the Gulf of Mexico and east Texas. More recently, a prolific and abundance of natural gas called shale gas has been found in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The urban centers have shifted and having diversity of supply and natural gas coming from the northern part of our region has a lot of value in terms of ability to expand, supporting the region and bringing low-cost gas to customers well into the future.

The Spire STL Pipeline will interconnect with the existing Rockies Express Pipeline in Scott County, Illinois. The planned route includes 65 miles of steel underground pipeline running through Scott, Greene and Jersey counties in Illinois and St. Charles and St. Louis counties in Missouri.

The new Spire STL Pipeline, if approved and constructed, will provide significant benefits to more than 647,000 homes and businesses in the entire St. Louis region. We’ll create more diversity in our energy supply, providing even more competitive pricing for natural gas customers in the region. The pipeline will also enhance reliability and earthquake resiliency and create new commercial and industrial growth opportunities in the region and along the proposed route. We look forward to the day where we can take the wrench and turn this new gas supply on to serve the St. Louis region.

How does Spire give back to the community outside of the industry?

We are highly connected to our communities and believe in giving back. We encourage our employees to volunteer in areas that are near and dear to their heart. Day for Good is a Spire Serves initiative that encourages employees to spend a day volunteering with an organization whose mission they support. With the launch of the volunteer initiative last fall, 462 employees volunteered 3,528 hours to 130 organizations in July and August alone. Spire further extends that investment through matching gifts and organizational support.

Advancing St. Louis highlights local leaders of small businesses and large corporations that are impacting the St. Louis region from a variety of industries. These leaders are Advancing St. Louis by inspiring change and starting conversations. Are you interested in having your story told? Contact Jennifer Mason, who coordinates marketing content, at jmason@stltoday.com.

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