Friday, November 16, 2018
Opinion

Column: Duke Energy failing to lead

When Duke Energy merged with Progress Energy to form the largest utility company in the United States, our organization wondered what kind of leadership to expect from this new corporate giant. After 18 months, we are gaining insight into that question, but the trends, as shown in these four areas, do not bode well.

The third-largest spill from a coal ash pond in U.S. history occurred last week at Duke's Dan River plant in North Carolina.

Duke officials struggled for nearly a week to contain the leak, which has sent toxic coal ash into the Dan River, threatening public drinking sources downstream. It took more than 24 hours for the company to notify the public of the unfolding disaster. Ironically, Duke has a record of aggressively lobbying against Environmental Protection Agency rules that would tighten coal ash management, which, if enacted, would have prevented this event. The company is now looking for "alternatives" to their current coal ash management policies similar to those proposed in EPA's rules. In the aftermath of a preventable major disaster, claiming that you will consider implementing recommendations you have lobbied against is not leadership.

Shortly after the merger with Progress, Duke announced it would shut down the crippled Crystal River nuclear reactor.

Progress Energy had structurally damaged the reactor's containment vessel while replacing a steam generator during a botched repair. We agreed with the decision to shut the reactor down, given the significant risk associated with continued operation. Following the decision to stop throwing good money after bad, it has been breathtaking to watch Duke gouge Florida customers due to Crystal River mismanagement. Essentially, the company put ratepayers on the hook for more than $1 billion, sparing its shareholders any significant financial responsibility. Under a more robust regulatory environment, Duke would not have been able to get away with this cost shift from shareholders to ratepayers and has clearly taken advantage of Florida's weak regulatory oversight. Duke customers should not be shouldering a disproportionate share of the costs from this mismanagement. This is not leadership.

Over the past few months it is becoming increasingly apparent that Duke will attempt to aggressively roll back policies that support solar power development.

Duke CEO Lynn Good and other executives are now engaged in a broad campaign to mislead the public about the "cost" of net metering. Net metering allows customers who place solar power on their homes to use the power they generate to offset their electric bill. Good and other Duke executives have characterized homeowners with solar power as taking advantage of low-income customers and not "paying their fair share."

Our organization and others have requested that Duke conduct an open and transparent value of solar analysis that would calculate the cost and benefits of customer-owned solar power to the grid. Every time there has been such an analysis conducted in a transparent manner, it has demonstrated that net metering is not only fair, but often underestimates the true value that solar systems provide to the grid. Duke Energy's hidden agenda in attacking solar net-metering policy is the simple fact that customer-owned solar generation challenges their central utility business model. Just as telecommunication companies had to adjust to cellular phone technology or how digital cameras changed the way we take photographs, Duke should embrace the technological advancement rather than feebly attempt to cling to a crumbling business model. This is not leadership.

Before the merger, Duke Energy appeared to want to move into a national leadership position on energy efficiency.

A number of utilities have achieved greater than 1 percent demand reductions on an annual basis, which over a 10-year period would lead to a 10 percent reduction in demand. As part of the merger settlement, Duke Energy promised to move in that direction. More than a year after that commitment was made, Duke continues to project savings significantly lower than the 1 percent annual goal. Duke's energy efficiency plan is less than half of what leadership utilities in other states are doing over the same period. The story is even worse here in Florida, where Duke is not expected to advance even the modest goals or program designs they have adopted in the Carolinas. This is not leadership.

I would simply ask senior Duke Energy executives: Is this the leadership we should continue to expect from the largest utility in the country?

Stephen Smith is executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, an advocacy organization working to promote responsible energy choices that create global warming solutions and ensure clean, safe and healthy communities throughout the Southeast. This is exclusive in Florida to the Tampa Bay Times.

Comments
Editorial: No substitute for state support of schools

Editorial: No substitute for state support of schools

Local referendums cannot make up for Tallahassee’s cuts.
Updated: 7 hours ago
Editorial: Riverwalk a defining civic space in Tampa

Editorial: Riverwalk a defining civic space in Tampa

Tampa's Riverwalk continues to grow into its own.This month, the American Planning Association named the linear park along the Hillsborough River through downtown Tampa as the winner of its "People's Choice" award. Part of the association's...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Editorial: Fee on single-use bags reasonable

Editorial: Fee on single-use bags reasonable

St. Petersburg’s proposed 5-cent fee on shopping bags could encourage better consumer habits.
Updated: 8 hours ago
Editorial: The enormous public cost of domestic violence

Editorial: The enormous public cost of domestic violence

Domestic violence carries a huge price tag in addition to the human toll.
Published: 11/15/18
Editorial: Warren takes positive step to advance justice in Hillsborough

Editorial: Warren takes positive step to advance justice in Hillsborough

The Conviction Review Unit follows through on a campaign pledge to review past conviction cases.
Published: 11/14/18
Editorial: Tone down the rhetoric, focus on counting votes

Editorial: Tone down the rhetoric, focus on counting votes

President Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Rick Scott should stop making unfounded claims of voter fraud.
Published: 11/13/18
Editorial: Get Hillsborough transit priorities in shape

Editorial: Get Hillsborough transit priorities in shape

Hillsborough County scored a historic win this month when voters approved a one-cent sales tax to pay for transportation improvements. The $9 billion or more it will generate over the next 30 years should transform mobility across the region and impr...
Published: 11/12/18
Editorial: Deadly danger of wrong-way driving

Editorial: Deadly danger of wrong-way driving

The state is taking action to minimize wrong-way crashes
Published: 11/11/18
Updated: 11/12/18
Editorial: Makeover on the Pinellas School Board

Editorial: Makeover on the Pinellas School Board

Three veterans depart, clearing the way for new faces
Published: 11/09/18
Updated: 11/12/18

Editorial: Count every vote

Elections have two parts: You vote, then count the vote. Floridians did their part by turning out in record numbers in Tuesday’s midterm elections. Now it falls to local election supervisors to ensure that every vote is accurately counted.
Published: 11/09/18
Updated: 11/12/18