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Amid protests, Duke Energy CEO tells shareholders she's 'proud' of utility

Debbie Hall of Sanford, N.C., holds a sign Thursday outside Duke Energy headquarters protesting coal ash ponds before the shareholders meeting in Charlotte, N.C. Duke agreed to a $102 million fine over its 2014 coal ash spill in the Dan River.
Debbie Hall of Sanford, N.C., holds a sign Thursday outside Duke Energy headquarters protesting coal ash ponds before the shareholders meeting in Charlotte, N.C. Duke agreed to a $102 million fine over its 2014 coal ash spill in the Dan River.
Published May 8, 2015

Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good told shareholders Thursday that she was "proud" of her company, even as the utility emerged from a tumultuous year that included federal fines and a lawsuit settlement that ran into the hundreds of millions.

Good said Duke has learned a lot from last year's coal ash spill that coated 70 miles of a North Carolina river in toxic sludge.

In February, Duke agreed to pay $102 million to settle federal charges that it violated the Clean Water Act, following a 2014 coal ash spill that contaminated the Dan River in North Carolina.

The utility agreed in March to pay $146 million to settle a shareholder lawsuit that claimed the company misrepresented who would run the company following its 2012 merger with Progress Energy.

Good acknowledged that 2014 was a "year of challenges." But she added that "by all measures, I'm very proud."

But protesters inside and outside the annual shareholders meeting for the Charlotte-based utility disagreed with Good's positive assessment.

The protesters criticized Duke for the coal ash spill and for what they see as efforts by the utility to prevent consumers from installing solar on their rooftops.

About eight protesters rose during Good's prepared remarks and chanted "Stop blocking rooftop solar!" until they were escorted out of the meeting by security guards.

Outside the meeting, other protesters held such signs as "DON'T DUMP YOUR ASH ON US!"

Shareholders re-elected the company's board of directors and approved executive pay. The shareholders also approved a resolution giving them greater ability to put their own nominees up for election to the board of directors, which Duke's board had opposed.

Critics of the utility said the resolution was needed because successive crises at the company have shown a need for more diversity and expertise on the board.

The 2012 merger with Progress Energy, which led to Duke's entry into Florida, was one of the high profile troubles the utility faced. Problems with the merger in part stemmed from the broken Crystal River nuclear plant, which Duke permanently closed in 2013.

The Charlotte Observer and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Ivan Penn at ipenn@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2332. Follow @Consumers_Edge.

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