Economy

Retiring Entergy Texas CEO reflects on career of progress

Sallie Rainer, president and CEO of Entergy Texas, is retiring on Nov. 14, 2021 after 37 years with the company.
Courtesy of Entergy Texas

Sallie Rainer knows how to make a plan.

Even before her term as the president and CEO of Entergy Texas, Rainer spent most of her career thinking about and working toward the best possible future, often tasked with projects that shaped the utility into what it is today.

As she finishes her final tasks in a nine-year stint as the Texas branch’s chief executive and a 37-year career with the company, she is still forming plans that will pave the way for the utility to move into a changing energy landscape.

In 2018, Rainer was able to announce the completion of the $937 million Montgomery County Power Station — the utility’s first new generation source in Texas in more than four decades.

“I would have to say one of the most exciting points in my career was seeing a plant built for the first time since 1979,” Rainer said.

And just two months ago, she made another announcement, this time regarding the Orange County Advanced Power Station, a natural-gas powered plant that will replace almost 60-year-old infrastructure with the company’s first station capable of using hydrogen from day one.

Plans for that project will soon be headed to state regulatory authorities for review.

It’s a fitting bookend for a career that started in 1984 when Rainer, a fresh Louisiana State University graduate, joined Entergy’s New Orleans office as a planning technician.

She described her first job as the lowest rung on the ladder in Entergy’s professional positions, letting her work from the bottom up over the next 10 years as she and other team members formed long-term plans for the company using the latest computer models of the time.

Rainer and her family grew roots in New Orleans, and she was enjoying life as a new mother when she finally saw the sign that her next step was west — in Texas.

The catalyst was Entergy’s merger with Gulf State Utilities, the Beaumont-based utility that covered most of the area in East Texas and Louisiana that Entergy now serves.

Rainer was able to stay in New Orleans a little longer when the rest of her team moved to Arkansas, but by 1997, administrative and planning positions starting being placed in The Woodlands.

“I always knew there was a lot of movement in this business, that’s where opportunities open up,” she said. “I knew at some point I would be moving and just wanted it to be the right time.”

She changed positions during that time as well, heading to the transition and competition analysis portion of the office, during what she described as an interesting time to be in the utility industry in Texas.

A study on whether parts of East Texas should join the state’s independent power grid managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas had been completed a few years before, and state leaders had decided the cost of the transition would just be too much for customers to bear.

It wasn’t long before Rainer worked her way through the ranks and into executive positions, earning the titles of director of regulatory affairs and energy settlements in 2005 and vice president of federal policy a few years later.

In that role, she helped arrange Entergy’s membership in Midcontinent Independent System Operator, which manages the power grid in 15 states and parts of Canada.

That deal was made official in December 2013 — more than a year after she took over as president and CEO of Entergy Texas.

Rainer’s succession of former President and CEO Joe Domino also marked the full transition of Entergy Texas’ headquarters from Edison Plaza in Beaumont to The Woodlands.

Her early days as an executive were marked by the country’s recovery from an economic recession but a booming period for the electricity market, especially for Southeast Texas.

Fracking and renewed interest in the nation’s production of natural gas fueled growth for utilities and the region, meaning Entergy Texas had a large role to play in making sure new projects and companies moving to the Gulf Coast had competitive and abundant power to operate with.

“The companies that move to this area are some of the most competitive industries around, which means they are looking for the best providers for their projects,” Rainer said. “We have to make sure we’re doing our part to stay competitive in the market and serve our role in economic development for the area.”

Part of that drive to stay competitive also meant keeping a diverse energy generation portfolio, Rainer said, which is why much of her guidance of the company has focused on technology.

The new generation plant in Willis used the latest turbine technology that will allow it to eventually transition to hydrogen as a fuel source as the company continues to bring on more solar and wind generation.

She said she has seen the market drift to heavy reliance on natural gas, which will probably continue to be an important piece of any energy transition, but it was important to pursue opportunities for greener energy as customers come to expect more from their providers.

Rainer has a deft way of looking into the heart of a problem and confidently explaining the way she sees it, even if it is something as nebulous as what the future of energy generation should look like.

But there is one thing she has trouble talking about. When Rainer talks about the staff of Entergy Texas, no one works for her, they work with her.

From emergency situations, to roll-outs of new technology and everything in between, Rainer said her team has always been the driving force to anything she’s been able to accomplish, which is why the next few months are going to be difficult for her.

“It’s always important to recognize the people you worked with over the years, but it’s one of those things that’s been difficult for me to say,” she said.

“They are the ones who make it happen … It’s been my honor to lead them.”

Written by Jacob Dick

Categories: Economy

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