Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Column: Duke Energy failing to lead

Published Feb. 11, 2014

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.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. editorial cartoon from times wires Andy Marlette -- Pensacola News Journal
  2. Governor Ron DeSantis. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times] "OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES"  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Here’s what readers had to say in Tuesday’s paper.
  3. Chris Corr is the president of Raydient Places & Properties, Rayonier, and the chair of the Florida Council of 100, a nonpartisan group of business and civic leaders. Tim Nickens
    The Council of 100 focuses on new strategies to recruit and retain the best teachers. | Column
  4. Oil can be seen in the Gulf of Mexico, more than 50 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana's tip, as a large plume of smoke rises from fires on BP's Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig in April 2010.  [Associated Press]
    The House has voted to permanently ban oil drilling off the Gulf Coast. Now the Senate should approve it.
  5. Oscar-winning pop star Sam Smith, who is non-binary, announced Friday that they now use "they/them" as their third-person pronouns. On social media, they said that "after a lifetime of being at war with my gender I’ve decided to embrace myself for who I am ..." JOEL C RYAN  |  Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP
    The singer now uses they/them pronouns. It shouldn’t be hard for reporters to recognize — and explain — gender non-binary terms. | Ashley Dye
  6. After more than 18 years as a Times columnist, Ernest Hooper starts a new chapter as assistant sports editor. JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Tampa Bay Times
    After more than 18 years as a Times columnist, Ernest Hooper starts a new chapter as assistant sports editor.
  7. Firemen and ambulance attendants remove a body from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where an explosion ripped the structure during services Sept.15,1963 . Associated Press
    Fifty-six years ago, a bomb blew apart the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing four girls and injuring dozens more.
  8. In their political afterlife, former politicians and their staffers are hoarding unspent campaign donations for years and using them to finance their lifestyles, advance new careers and pay family members, an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times, 10News WTSP and TEGNA-owned TV stations found. CHRISTOPHER O'DONNELL  |  Steve Madden
    Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Kathy Castor are still pushing the House to take up the reform legislation. It’s past time.
  9. Yesterday• Letters to the Editor
    High tide from offshore hurricane Michael creeps up into the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs Wednesday afternoon after the Anclote River backs up. Jim Damaske
    Here’s what readers had to say in Monday’s paper.
  10. Activist Greta Thunberg, foreground, participates in a climate protest, in central Stockholm Sweden. PONTUS LUNDAHL  |  AP
    Here’s some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement