In both his professional life and community involvement, Michael R. Niggli demonstrates a commitment to the environment. The 1971 graduate with a B.S. in electrical engineering cites several ways he has focused on environmental concerns as chief operating officer for San Diego Gas and Electric and Southern California Gas Co., Sempra Energy’s California regulated utilities.
“First, the ability to go green means you are reducing emissions and adding the latest state-of-the-art technology,” stated Niggli, who earned a master’s in electrical engineering from San Diego State and founded its graduate program in power engineering. “Second, it involves energy efficiency and reducing energy consumption while providing the product to customers. It’s important to reduce the carbon footprint that our customers have with regard to energy consumption.
“And thirdly,” continued Niggli, the COO since 2006, “we’re also focused on reducing the carbon footprint from our own facilities. That can include more efficient vehicles in our fleet, more environmentally friendly ways in doing our business, planting trees as mitigation efforts and careful evaluation of any environmental impacts we might have. We have the largest natural gas distribution company in the United States, and natural gas is the cleanest of all the fossil fuels. Further, we are pursuing many new renewable energy projects that produce electricity from wind, solar, geothermal and biomass sources.”
From 2000 to 2006, Niggli was president of Sempra Generation where he was responsible for the development, construction, operation and maintenance of merchant power plants and energy infrastructure throughout North America. During his tenure, Sempra Generation operated power plant assets in Nevada, California, Arizona, Texas and Mexico.
Prior to 2000, the CSULB alumnus was chairman and chief executive officer of Nevada Power Company and Sierra Pacific Resources. He played a role in successfully merging the two companies, thereby doubling their size and strength. Also, Niggli guided the company through the deregulation process in Nevada and, as reported by J.D. Powers and Associates, achieved the highest customer satisfaction rating of any electric utility in the western United States.
Born in the Boston area, Niggli attended 13 schools around the country as a child while his father served in the U.S. Navy. The family finally settled in California where Niggli, with an aptitude in mathematics and an interest in solving problems, decided to study electrical engineering. He chose CSULB “primarily because of the engineering school’s reputation. Also, I was looking for a university close to my home and, importantly, Long Beach had extensive program offerings in the evenings.”
At Long Beach State, Niggli played on the freshman and junior varsity basketball teams, but had to discontinue playing sports when he began working full time at Hughes Aircraft as an engineering draftsman. During his last three years on campus, he was married and supporting a family. “I tried to arrange classes in the late afternoon and evening,” said Niggli, the first in his family to earn a college degree. “Long Beach had such arobust offering that I was able to finish in four years. It was a very well-rounded education and one that allowed me to provide for my family and to apply the practical education to my job.”
After graduating, Niggli was employed by Hughes Aircraft for a short time and then began his career at San Diego Gas and Electric, where he advanced to director of the fuels management group. In 1988, he moved to New Orleans and remained there until 1996 as a senior executive with Entergy Corp.
His major community activity with an environmental focus is the Great Basin National Park Foundation, which recently named him its chairman. The national park is located in Nevada and the surrounding Great Basin area encompasses three other states including eastern California. Among its goals, the foundation promotes and supports projects that preserve and restore wilderness areas and ecological systems, protects endangered species and wildlife and maintains trail systems for visitors.
“Our National Parks system is a great treasure for our society,” said Niggli, a board member for the past eight years. “I’m pleased that our Great Basin Foundation has been successful in completing a new Visitor Center with education exhibits that highlight the rich diversity of resources, scenery and habitat in the area.”
Previously, Niggli has served on the boards of the United Way of Southern Nevada, University of Nevada at Las Vegas Foundation, Electric Power Research Institute and the Edison Electric Institute. Also, he has been involved in business and education partnerships in San Diego, New Orleans and Las Vegas.
The 2008 Distinguished Alumnus for the College of Engineering has provided expert testimony on electric, gas and telecommunication matters before numerous legislative committees, public service commissions and city councils at the federal, state and local levels. In addition, he has authored numerous articles on issues pertinent to the electric, gas and telecommunications industries.
Niggli and his wife, Barbara, who are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, have one son, Mike Jr., who’s a teacher in Houston, Texas.
With a love for the outdoors, Niggli enjoys sailing, playing golf and running, but he also finds time for his hobby of model railroading.
Looking back on his decision to study engineering, the San Diego resident believes it was a good choice. “Meeting the challenge of providing efficient energy services and infrastructure for the benefit of our customers is one of the most beneficial things that I could have done with my education.”