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."


  1. Tech Data's CEO Rich Hume (left) shares a moment with former CEO Bob Dutkowsky during a send off celebration for Dutkowsky earlier this year. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times
    A private equity firm has agreed to buy Tech Data.
  2. Joseph Erickson, 53, looks out the window at the gulf-[front condo he thought he won at a foreclosure auction last year.t JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times
    "There have been serious allegations,'' Judge Keith Meyer said.
  3. Sam's Club fulfillment center manager Nick Barbieri explains to a shopper how the new Scan & Go shop works at 5135 S Dale Mabry Highway. SARA DINATALE  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Shoppers in Tampa Bay can now skip the line and cash out alcohol on their own phones.
  4. Which cars hold their value best in Tampa Bay? Pictured is traffic in Tampa Bay in 2017. [Times file photo] ELLIOTT, LOREN  |  Elliott, Loren
    For the top spots, think big and rugged.
  5. A rendering of the planned Pinstripes bowling, bocce and bistro space that is planned to open at International Plaza alongside a Cinemex in spring 2021. Pinstripes
    In addition to upscale bowling and movies, there will also be bocce ball and a bistro.
  6. Tech Data's headquarters in Largo. TD AGENCY  |  Courtesy of Tech Data
    The company is being sold to a private equity firm.
  7. St. Petersburg's new 26-acre Pier District, with components that will include a coastal thicket walking path, marketplace, playground and pavilion, is nearing completion. Shown is the tilted lawn in front of the Pier head building that is being created  with Geofoam, soil and grass. SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    St. Petersburg hopes to sell naming rights in the Pier District — available for annual payments of $50,000 to $1 million for 10-year terms — to help offset taxpayer subsidies.
  8. Tech Data chief executive officer Rich Hume talks to company employees about the pending acquisition of Tech Data for $5.4 billion at a global town hall meeting on Wednesday morning. David Kiester | Tech Data
    Apollo Global Management has offered $130 per share of Tech Data stock. If shareholders approve, the home-grown company will remain based in Pinellas County.
  9. Isabella Yosuico of Safety Harbor with some of the Mighty Tykes wrist and ankle bands she invted to help her son Isaac, who has Down Syndrome, and other children with weak muscles. SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    A product to help special needs kids leads to big loans, a lawsuit and a bungled bankruptcy
  10. The Pinellas County Commission moved closer Tuesday to granting a total of $20.6 million to three museums: the Salvidor Dali Museum (top), the Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center (bottom left), and the St. Petersburg Museum of History. Photos courtesy of Pinellas County
    The Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg Museum of History and Tampa Bay Watch are on track to receive bed tax dollars for expansions.