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Alumna enjoys vibrant, complex career in energy

April 28, 2016 | Alumni

Kyra Fleming ’92 went to work for Dayton Power and Light in 1998 because she envisioned that changes in the energy markets would create opportunities in an industry with a long history of stability.  Two decades later as vice president and general counsel of DTE Energy in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Fleming sees first-hand how vibrant and complex the industry is today. Her division, which handles the company’s nonregulated business, oversees 68 projects in 17 states, focusing on industrial energy services, renewable energy, and environmental controls.

“Deregulation presented a lot of opportunities for companies to grow and become a part of a whole new industry,” said Fleming, who also clerked for a federal bankruptcy judge and worked as an associate at a Youngstown law firm. “I expected that energy would always be a vital industry. It’s always changing, but it’s not going to go away. We’re the growth engine. Our task is to look for additional opportunities. That’s the work I like—where the result is seeing our footprint expand.”

Typical projects include building and operating on-site energy plants for companies that require large amounts of power for manufacturing; developing renewable fuel projects—wood-fired plants and landfill gas facilities—that divert waste wood fuel from landfills or process methane gas; and helping customers reduce their emissions by offering treated coal that burns cleaner.

“The way that the industry has evolved has produced a lot of growth and challenges,” Fleming said. “We are more creative in finding ways to generate power as customers are trying to move away from utilities. Non-utility providers like us are providing more opportunities to meet the needs of customers and drive down their input costs.”

Her job is made more stimulating by ongoing changes in legislation and regulations, the Youngstown native said.

“The industry is evolving constantly as we react to new legislation that impacts how we operate,” she said. “When an industry is evolving like this one has been over the last two decades, it presents new challenges all the time.”

She enjoys helping the company, which has assets of nearly $1 billion, look for growth opportunities like acquiring new plants and responding to RFPs from companies looking for solutions to their energy needs. She finds negotiating mergers and acquisitions and selling jobs more exciting than litigation. Closing deals where customers will realize a cost-savings thanks to the company’s efforts  is satisfying, Fleming said.

“It’s a lot more rewarding to be involved in something where it feels like a win-win versus litigation where there’s one winner and one loser,” said the mother of 14-year-old twins. “We’re good at providing utility service and we’re efficient at it. Generally, we can do it better and cheaper.”

She described her M.B.A, which she earned at Ohio University, as a “critical” part of her success. “Our lawyers are imbedded in our business units,” she said. “It’s very important that we understand business needs in order to offer the most effective legal advice and support to the team.”

Fleming, who also earned her undergraduate degree at Ohio State, said there is one downside to her job.

“I’m surrounded by Wolverines, or, even worse, Spartans,” she said. “I think I’m the only Buckeye in this building of 500 employees.”

On the upside, there is no shortage of colleagues to bet on the outcome of the Ohio State-Michigan game, she said.

“I will bet anyone. I’ll bet lunch. I’ll bet coffee,” she said. “It’s been very lucrative for me. Sometimes, I go through the entire month of January without buying lunch.”