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. Frances Werner-Watkins Julie Rinaldi
    News and notes on local businesses
  2. Left to right: Oak Hill Hospital Anesthesiology residents Daniel Eskander, Wayne Simmons, Jeffrey Huang and Benjamin Segil. Katie Stacy/Oak Hill Hospital
    News and notes on local businesses
  3. A total of 131 employees are scheduled to be laid off in January as Locale Market and Farm Table Cucina close at the Sundial to make way for a new food hall created by the developers of the Heights Public Market at the Armature Works in Tampa. CHRIS URSO   |   TIMES
    In a notice to the state of Florida, Sundial owner Bill Edwards said the layoffs are expected to take place the first week of January.
  4. WeWork is opening Tampa offices at 501 E Kennedy Blvd. despite company struggles, including $1.25 billion in losses over 2019. SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    WeWork has 200 planned coworking space openings as leadership tries to manage $1.25 billion in losses.
  5. Florida's unemployment rate was unchanged in October at 3.2 percent, according to numbers released Friday. LYNNE SLADKY  |  AP
    The latest numbers were released Friday morning.
  6. Apollo Global Management has offered $130 per share for Tech Data's stock in an acquisition worth $5.4 billion. If regulators shareholders approve, the home-grown company will remain based in Pinellas County, where it employs 2,000 of its 14,000 workers. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Private equity firms like Apollo create wealth for pension funds, financial institutions and individual investors by buying assets that typically are sold later at a profit.
  7. Some of Tampa Bay's largest companies are being sold or are up for sale. Times files and Bloomin' Brands
    Tech Data is just the latest in a growing list of public companies bought up by out-of-state firms.
  8. Hillsborough Community College solicited "non-binding letters of interest or intent” last month from developers interested in purchasing the Dr. Gwendolyn W. Stephenson District Administration Center on Davis Islands. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Developers have eyed the 3.7 acre waterfront parcel for years, but recent interest has prompted the college’s trustees to finally start the conversation.
  9. Tampa International Airport looking north. The Wall Street Journal ranked it the best midsize airport in America. [Times files]
    TPA took first place in the Wall Street Journal’s annual survey of U.S. airports.
  10. 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.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement