Michael Renna: Leading The Clean Way

Michael Reanna | President and CEO | South Jersey Industries

While a lot has changed at South Jersey Industries (SJI) since its inception over a hundred years ago, one thing that remains the same is the company’s commitment to delivering safe, reliable, affordable energy to its more than 700,000 natural gas customers in New Jersey. Under the leadership of President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Renna, SJI (the parent company of South Jersey Gas Co. and Elizabethtown Gas Co.) has expanded the scope of its mission in recent years to better address the needs of its employees, customers and surrounding communities.

Last year, SJI introduced an initiative called “Leading the Way” showcasing the company’s progress toward its renewed vision in becoming a leader in clean energy which includes steps to achieve carbon-neutral operations by 2040, a goal outlined in the company’s comprehensive clean energy plan that was released in 2020.

 “At SJI, we recognize that we hold a shared responsibility to protect the environment we call home,” Renna said. “That’s why we are committed to promoting sustainability, driving innovation, and Leading the Way toward a clean energy future for our state and region.”

Renewable Energy Development

While renewable energy can be produced from traditional sources like wind and solar, recent advancements in clean energy technology have paved the way for new sources of energy production from facilities such as landfills, wastewater treatment plants and agricultural operations generating animal waste. For SJI, each source plays an equally important role in propelling the company toward its 2040 goal.

So far, SJI and its development partner REV LNG, LLC, have broken ground on 14 renewable energy facilities throughout the Northeast and Midwest. Once complete, each facility will include an anaerobic digester to capture methane produced by cow manure and additional equipment to clean the digester-produced biogas, transforming it into commercial-grade, pipeline-quality renewable natural gas. SJI and REV LNG hold additional development rights for a total portfolio of up to 40 dairy farms. Because of their continued partnership in this area of strategic importance, SJI is positioned well to become a national leader in waste-to-energy projects by 2025.

Through its utility subsidiaries, South Jersey Gas and Elizabethtown Gas, SJI is also pursuing several renewable energy projects at waste management centers in New Jersey. For example, Elizabethtown Gas recently announced its partnership with RNG Energy Solutions to build an interconnection between the developer’s organic food waste anaerobic digester project in Linden, NJ, and the utility’s natural gas supply. South Jersey Gas and the Atlantic County Utilities Authority (ACUA) will also partner to convert ACUA’s landfill waste into pipeline-quality renewable natural gas.

As part of SJI’s joint venture with Captona – known as Catamaran Renewables – SJI has acquired three fuel cell projects: two in Staten Island, NY, and one in Bronx, NY. The company has also acquired a 5.66 MW solar and 5.2 MWh battery storage facility in Agawam, Massachusetts, through Catamaran Renewables. In addition, it has brought online a brown-field solar array at a landfill in Florence Township, NJ. SJI has also installed numerous solar arrays at its corporate headquarters and field operations facilities.

Green hydrogen is another clean energy alternative that can be made directly from the process of electrolysis. When produced using renewable powered electricity, this energy source is 100% carbon-free and can be delivered to end-users, in blended form, through exiting natural gas infrastructure. This year, at one of South Jersey Gas’s locations, SJI will introduce an electrolyzer that will produce green hydrogen and deliver it to the utility’s distribution system.

Strengthened Commitment to Customer and Community Support

SJI is committed to positively impacting its customers and communities by supporting initiatives aligning with its vision and priorities.

At SJI, we recognize the value that our customers, community partners and other key stakeholders bring to our organization,” Renna says, adding, “We treat our customers and the communities we serve as valued partners in our efforts to deliver safe, reliable, affordable clean energy.”

Of its priorities, SJI continues to strengthen its commitment to providing education and vocational career development. Since 2021, SJI has partnered with the Mark Cuban Foundation to host free, introductory Artificial Intelligence Bootcamps for high school students based within its utilities’ service territories. To recognize New Jersey Careers in Utilities Week, South Jersey Gas partners with other local utilities annually to host events at vocational high schools throughout Southern New Jersey. In addition, South Jersey Gas partners with the Atlantic County Institute of Technology to provide students with internships in the company’s GIS and Records departments. SJI also welcomes several students each year to participate in its IGNITE Internship Program.

More recently, SJI’s annual Employee Giving Campaign donated more than $330,000 to local, regional, and statewide community-based organizations. In addition to the Employee Giving Campaign, SJI and its subsidiaries, South Jersey Gas and Elizabethtown Gas, provided more than $275,000 in meaningful aid throughout 2022 to local nonprofits and organizations that deliver critical support to those in need. These organizations included local medical and first responder agencies, youth sports and recreation programs, educational foundations and economic development organizations, to name a few.

As for customers, South Jersey Gas and Elizabethtown Gas added more than 10,000 net customers in 2021 alone. Last year, Elizabethtown Gas was named Highest in Customer Satisfaction in the East Midsize Segment for the eighth consecutive year by J.D. Power; “Easiest to do Business With” for the third successive year by Escalent; and “Customer Champion” for four years in a row by Escalent. Recently, both utilities were recognized with the American Gas Association’s Industry Leader Accident Prevention Award and Leading Indicator Safety Award.

SJI’s Culture of Inclusion, Care and Belonging

For SJI, the company’s more than 1,100 employees are critical to SJI’s ability to deliver exceptional service to its customers and communities.

“Our employees think big, lead, inspire, deliver results, and do the right thing. However, we also recognize that we serve over 1,100 employees diverse in experience, background, and thought,” Renna says. “Therefore, we’ve created a comprehensive approach to human resources programming that ensures every employee feels accountable, empowered, and included.”

To further support the company’s commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive working environment, SJI established an internal Diversity Council. The council consists of a diverse representation of key leaders charged with providing strategic guidance to the company around all corporate diversity and inclusion priorities, including talent, community partnerships and supplier diversity. Recently, SJI also started the OneSJI Diversity Podcast. This monthly podcast series aims to educate SJI’s workforce by discussing diversity and inclusion industry trends, motivating innovation through navigating differences, and promoting awareness around diversity, equity, and inclusion subject matter. In addition, SJI’s five Employee Resource Groups also help to drive employee engagement, foster an inclusive and collaborative workplace, develop employees, and broaden community partnerships.

A Look Ahead

SJI will continue to pave the way as a leader in clean energy, including making enhancements to the customer, employee, and community experience. As a trusted energy provider, SJI looks forward to providing innovative fuels safely and affordably, delivering the exceptional service their customers have grown to expect.