New CEO takes over at Connexus Energy

by Eric Hagen

ECM Publishers

When the price of oil skyrocketed in 1973, a middle-school-age student named Greg Ridderbusch thought about how America could prepare for future energy crisis.

“Most people in junior high were playing soccer. I was getting passive solar documents. I was thinking about energy storage,” Ridderbusch said. “The energy crisis in the ‘70s really marked America for a long time and I was kind of part of that. I wanted to be in the energy industry.”

Photo by Eric Hagen New chief executive officer Greg Ridderbusch stands by the electric vehicle charging stations and the solar garden on Connexus Energy’s Ramsey campus. The largest charger Ridderbusch is closest to can recharge an electric vehicle in a few hours instead of needing to leave the vehicle plugged in overnight.
Photo by Eric Hagen
New chief executive officer Greg Ridderbusch stands by the electric vehicle charging stations and the solar garden on Connexus Energy’s Ramsey campus. The largest charger Ridderbusch is closest to can recharge an electric vehicle in a few hours instead of needing to leave the vehicle plugged in overnight.

Ridderbusch, who recently turned 57, became Connexus Energy’s new chief executive officer Oct. 1. Mike Rajala retired at the end of September following a 35-year career with Connexus, seven of those as the CEO.

Connexus Energy is the largest customer-owned utility in Minnesota, providing electricity to approximately 129,000 homes and businesses in Anoka, Chisago, Hennepin, Isanti, Ramsey, Sherburne and Washington counties.

For the past 10 years, Ridderbusch has been employed by Great River Energy, which supplies power to the 28 electrical cooperatives that own it, including Connexus Energy. He first joined that company in 2005 as vice president of business development and strategy. Over time, he became a utility management consultant for the Great River Energy and was president of Midwest AgEnergy Group, an upper Midwest biofuels enterprise owned by Great River Energy and other investors.

The Connexus Energy Board appointed Ridderbusch following an extensive national search. According to Board Chairperson Peter Wojciechowski, Ridderbusch is a great fit for Connexus Energy.

“In these changing times, Greg’s background and experience will be a real asset to our cooperative.”

After working at Great River Energy for 10 years, Ridderbusch said he was interested in a job where he would be more involved with the consumers of electricity, some of which have shown interest in alternative energy solutions, such as electric vehicles and solar power. Connexus has a solar garden and electric vehicle charging stations at its Ramsey campus, 14601 Ramsey Blvd.

“All those things to me are a fascinating evolution for our business and I want to be a part of that,” he said.

A native of Seattle, Washington, Ridderbusch remembers picking blackberries and huckleberries in fields where Microsoft’s headquarters were eventually built.

Ridderbusch is the oldest of three brothers. His mother stayed at home to raise the kids and his father was an electrical engineer who passed along his love of math and science to Ridderbusch.

Service to country was important to Ridderbusch and he liked the opportunity the military offered to get a start on his career and to mature as a leader. He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he earned a mechanical engineering bachelor’s degree.

After graduating from West Point, Ridderbusch remained in military service for 10 years as an engineering officer and worked on multiple construction projects, including an airfield and water distribution plants. He was in the National Guard and Army Reserves.

During this decade of military service, which included no deployments, he earned his master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia, and a Master of Business Administration degree from Northwestern Kellogg Graduate School of Management in Chicago, Illinois.

Prior to moving to Minnesota in 2005 with his wife, Rosa, he traveled the country as a utility management consultant, working with electric cooperatives similar to Connexus, but also electrical companies owned by cities or other investors.

Greg and Rosa Ridderbusch have been married for 29 years and live in Maple Grove. They love to camp, take trips to the North Shore and Minnesota state parks, and cook.

Ridderbusch said his predecessor, Rajala, left Connexus in a strong position in terms of electrical system reliability, financial stability and good customer service.

“In my business, it’s not words, it’s deeds,” Ridderbusch said. “Any new CEO has to be cautious to first understand what the company is today and what it does well, and that’s what I’m in the process of doing.”

Besides increasing demand for renewable energy, Connexus has been hearing more customers asking for 24/7 access to information about how much electricity they are using. The board will be deciding in the next several months whether to implement an automated reading program where information is collected electronically and Connexus customers can get a more accurate reflection of what household devices are using the most electricity. The new system would also allow customers to set up their own billing date.

“There’s a strong heritage of co-ops building out rural America, and that’s kind of done. Now you have new members, millennials and others that want to interact with their utility in a different way. They want to be able to see what options they have for efficiency. They want to be able to perhaps control things by the Internet, and those are things that’s not just Connexus. It’s really nationwide,” Ridderbusch said.