By: Todd Schulz
Lindsey Johnson is helping minimize Consumers Energy’s environmental footprint as we modernize Michigan’s natural gas system.
Replacing hundreds of miles of major transmission pipelines is part of our strategy to make Michigan’s natural gas system even more safe, reliable, affordable and clean.
Johnson, an environmental engineer, ensures we meet — and exceed — environmental responsibilities on the massive pipeline construction projects to safeguard natural resources and wildlife and enhance local habitat.
From securing permits to planting pollinators and rescuing amphibians, Johnson is on the front lines of our fight to protect the planet.
Her passion comes from one place: Her sons, Parker, 6, and Carson, 2.
“That’s the whole reason I do it,” said Johnson, who has worked 15 years at Consumers Energy. “We want to improve the environment, protect the land we live and work and play on, for our kids and grandkids. I hope I’m making an impression on them that will last a lifetime.”
Dream Job Started Early
Johnson joined Consumers Energy in 2006 after graduating from Michigan State University, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biosystems engineering and met her husband, Ryan, a pathologist at Beaumont Hospital.
Her informal environmental education started much earlier at her parents’ cottage on Hardwood Lake near West Branch. As a teen, Johnson learned about the lake’s environmental challenges such as invasive species and algae bloom. Soon, she met the consultants treating the water, volunteered to help and saw the positive impact of their work.
“It was fascinating, and I loved being outside,” Johnson, 39, said. “Even as a kid, I could see what they were saying and saw how the lake improved when they treated it. That’s why I decided to study biosystems engineering at MSU. My parents had never heard of it. They thought I was nuts.”
Johnson worked on a wide variety of environmental projects during her first decade at Consumers Energy, from deciding where to place wind turbines to making sure electric lines were built responsibly.
In 2016, she was assigned to the Saginaw Trail Pipeline, a four-year, $610 million effort to replace 90 miles of natural gas transmission pipeline in Saginaw, Genesee and Oakland counties. Replacing major transmission lines is a piece of our plan to lower methane emissions.
Johnson ensured environmental best practices were followed before, during and after construction.
“I loved it,” she said. “It was my first really big project.”
Going Above and Beyond
Johnson helped complete each phase of the project safely and on schedule, guiding the work through two environmentally sensitive areas, the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge in Saginaw County and Oakland County’s Kensington Metropark, while using a variety of sustainable construction practices.
In addition to meeting all environmental standards, Johnson implemented a new restoration technique by planting a seed mix containing native grasses and wildflowers to attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators losing habitat across the country.
Hundreds of acres of wild and wetland areas where new pipeline was buried are blooming as new habitat for pollinators — and the idea is spreading to other construction projects throughout the company.
Johnson also worked closely with environmental inspectors and a herpetologist to protect amphibians such as turtles and snakes and other wildlife in the path of the project. With the help of our construction crews, they rescued adult turtles and turtle eggs from the right-of-way. The eggs were incubated under the care of a herpetologist, hatched and released back into their habitat.
“Because we cared, the crews cared,” Johnson said. “It’s the culture we’ve created.”
Building a Successful Template
Saginaw Trail’s success is a model for other major transmission pipeline projects, which are also using green construction techniques to prevent erosion, protect wildlife, conserve soil, reduce waste and recycle wood and other materials. Johnson will use many lessons learned on the upcoming Mid-Michigan Pipeline project, set to start construction in 2023.
Johnson’s work felt even more personal in 2020 when Saginaw Trail construction route ran close to her Brighton home and through Kensington Metropark, where she often hikes, bikes and enjoys nature with her sons. The experience only strengthened her resolve to help us protect the planet as we lead Michigan’s clean energy transition.
“It’s amazing to work for a company that’s so supportive of these efforts,” Johnson said. “We’re a gas and electric company. But we care about the environment because we touch so much land in Michigan. This has always been my passion and I’m really fortunate I get to do it every day.”