Advertisement
  1. Business

Protests mount against Duke Energy holding online-only annual shareholders meeting

Mary Wilkerson, from Indian Rocks Beach, works to get the head of a Monopoly Man costume straight with the help of her daughter Sarah Wilkerson, (right) as community leaders from St. Petersburg protested last October in front of Duke Energy in St. Petersburg. They claim Duke Energy intentionally deceived Floridians into thinking they are supporting solar with Amendment 1, which will block the solar industry in Florida. That amendment did not win voter approval. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times]
Published Mar. 30, 2017

How does a big corporation facing criticism on a number of fronts try to escape a face-to-face showdown? Make its annual shareholders meeting an online-only event. That, in a nutshell, is what critics say of Duke Energy's recent decision to end its in-person, annual shareholders meeting in its headquarters city of Charlotte, N.C., and replace it with an online meeting scheduled for May 4.

Duke, whose Florida subsidiary has 1.7 million customers in west central Florida, is trying to put a progressive spin on its switch. It says an online annual shareholders meeting will enable broader investor participation for an event that traditionally requires shareholders to travel in person to Charlotte. And, the giant power company adds, it is not the first company to adopt this strategy.

For some vocal opponents, the inability to confront Duke Energy's top executives and its board of directors in person is a loss of investor rights. "Shareholders large and small have voiced frustration with the company since its announcement of the May 4 meeting," the Charlotte Observer reported this week. The paper quotes Jim Warren, executive director of NC WARN, an area nonprofit and Duke shareholder critical of the electric utility's practices. "This is hiding from debate," he argued.

Organizations with broader heft are also weighing in. The Council of Institutional Investors, representing some of the largest U.S. pension funds, urged Duke to add an in-person component to the online meeting. In a letter to Duke's board of directors, the group said a physical meeting reinforces trust and good faith between a company's leaders and its owners, the shareholders.

The California State Teachers' Retirement System, the second-largest public pension fund in the country, this week also sent a letter to Duke expressing concerns over cutting the in-person meeting.

Duke Energy's been roundly criticized on a number of fronts in recent years. In North Carolina, it's been busy defending a massive coal ash spill and subsequent cleanup efforts of a major North Carolina River.

Previous coverage: Trigaux: Florida utilities' efforts to mislead voters on Amendment 1 solar issue are shameful

In the Sunshine State, there's an ongoing controversy involving its Florida subsidiary based in St. Petersburg, Duke Energy Florida, to charge ratepayers for more than $1 billion in charges for a planned but now abandoned nuclear power plant in Levy County. Those plans ultimately were shelved as too expensive, but not before Duke attained a federal license to build a nuclear plant on the site in the future. Duke's financial backing of a "consumer" group that many say was created to mislead Florida consumers over a proposed solar power amendment also remains a sore point.

There's more for some shareholders to complain about. According to the 2017 shareholder proxy, Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good received compensation last year of $13.8 million, a 27.4 percent gain over her 2015 pay package. Yet Duke earned $2.1 billion in 2016, down from $2.8 billion the previous year.

Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center's office in Chapel Hill, N.C., told the Observer that it is a "sad commentary" on Duke that its senior executive are unwilling "to face the public at a shareholder meeting in their own hometown."

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. The main exhibit center at the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa once stirred the imagination with dinosaurs and stars. Now, it's empty, but on the verge of rebirth as a movie studio.
    The County Commission has set aside $2 million for the project as the Film Commission studies the demand for it.
  2. Snack-focused delivery app GoPuff launched in Tampa in February. It serves the area surrounding the University of South Florida. GoPuff
    Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or Funyuns? GoPuff says it has the data for which snack Floridians love the most.
  3. "House Hunters," shot at a home in the Bayshore Beautiful area.  (Times | 2007) Tampa Tribune
    Whang, 57, was also a comedian and actress.
  4. The city is accepting applications for its Commercial Revitalization Program. The city has allocated $175,000 for the program this year.
  5. The Walmart supercenter at 990 Missouri Ave. faced fines in December for these storage containers in the parking lot. City officials are debating whether to make a short-term arrangement with the city two’s Largo stores this year so they can store their holiday inventory. City of Largo
    In the end, city commissioners say yes, with some reservations.
  6. More construction is on the way to St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, thanks to $19.75 million in Federal Aviation Administration grants to rehabilitate the airport’s runway. (Times file photo)
    The work is expected to be complete by spring 2021.
  7. Job applicants seek information about temporary positions available with the 2020 Census, during a job fair in Miami on Wednesday designed for people fifty years or older. LYNNE SLADKY  |  AP
    The state added 22,500 jobs in August.
  8. Homeowner Cheryl Murdoch, 59, explains the workings of the Philips Smart Mirror in her bathroom. Murdoch and her husband live in the Epperson neighborhood in Wesley Chapel, home of the Crystal Lagoon, where some residents are piloting new health technologies inside their homes. SCOTT KEELER  |   Times
    In Pasco’s Crystal Lagoon community, AdventHealth and Metro Development Group are testing in-home technology aimed at keeping people away from the hospital.
  9. A company called Flock Safety is selling automatic license plate readers to neighborhood associations to cut down on crime, and Tampa neighborhood Paddock Oaks is one of their customers. Pictured is a Flock camera on Paddock Oaks Dr. | [Luis Santana | Times] LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    Atlanta-based Flock Safety has provided 14 area communities with high-speed, high-definition cameras for surveillance.
  10. An American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft approaches Miami International Airport for landing in March. Bloomberg
    The 60-year-old veteran airline employee told investigators he was upset that union contract negotiations had stalled.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement