MADRID — In the winter of 2015, three directors of a Connecticut electric company met with a potential acquirer: a determined Spanish utility executive named José Ignacio Sánchez Galán, who surprised them with a bold vision for America’s utility industry.
“He was very clear then that he saw the U.S. as having enormous potential in renewable energy,” said John L. Lahey, who was chairman of the company, United Illuminating. “This guy six years ago was already way ahead of where the U.S. was.”
Mr. Galán clinched that deal for United Illuminating for $3 billion. His company, Iberdrola, is now poised, with a Danish partner, to begin constructing the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the United States, in waters off Massachusetts. Over all, Iberdrola and its subsidiaries reach 24 U.S. states and have investments in countries from Britain to Brazil to Australia.
For the past 20 years, since he took over Iberdrola, based in Bilbao with 37,000 employees, Mr. Galán has been on a mission to upend the electrical utility industry, a fragmented collection of companies tied to aging coal- and oil-burning generators.
Biden administration in the United States and European countries tighten regulations and provide incentives to encourage investment in green energy.
“Galán without doubt was the chief executive of a big utility that first understood that the energy transition from fossil fuels to clean energy was unavoidable and that it would happen fast,” said Miguel Arias Cañete, a Spanish politician and former European commissioner for energy and climate action.
The changes at Iberdrola are happening elsewhere, as the electric power industry is being reconfigured not only by tougher environmental laws but also by the advantages of immense scale in buying wind turbines or solar panels.
Enel in Italy, Orsted in Denmark and Nextera Energy in the United States — that many analysts see as leaders of a new generation of “renewable majors,” comparable to the way oil majors like Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell exercised huge influence on how the world used energy.