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Duke Sets Higher Target For Renewable Energy

Duke Energy Solar farm near Elizabeth City NC
Duke Energy
A Duke Energy solar farm near Elizabeth City, N.C.

Duke Energy says it’s on track to beat its goal for renewable energy use over the next few years, so it’s raising the bar. The pledge came in the company’s annual corporate sustainability report out Thursday.

Duke says it hopes to produce or buy 8,000 megawatts of electricity by 2020 from wind, solar or biomass. (That’s organic matter such as animal waste or plant matter converted to fuel.) The old goal, set in 2013, was 6,000.  

Put another way, Duke now thinks it can more than double the energy it gets what it's currently generating from renewable sources.

Spokesman Randy Wheeless said that includes power generated by its consumer utilities in the Carolinas, Florida and the Midwest and its separate commercial business (Duke Energy Renewables), which sells solar and wind power nationwide to businesses and other utilities.  

“We’re probably around that 7 percent range for renewable energy that we either own or purchase.  So with this new goal, we’ll probably be at close to 15 percent,” Wheeless said.

Duke likes to trumpet its alternative energy investments - $4 billion since 2007 in solar and wind energy, with plans for another $3 billion in the next five years. Wheeless says that’s because the market is improving.

“The costs are coming down, it’s more acceptable. And customers want that,” Wheeless said. “We’ve got areas of the country where we’ve got a lot of wind - in the Midwest. And here in the Carolinas, solar is very prominent. We’re building that and we’re also buying a lot, too.”  

Large companies put out sustainability reports like this one every year. They’re voluntary, designed to promote companies to investors, customers and businesses.

Duke’s report is broad, addressing a range of corporate social responsibility issues -  from carbon emissions and water use to charitable giving and diversity. 

It details how the company is dealing with coal ash and how it’s preventing deaths of eagles and bats at a Wyoming wind farm.

It also reports oil spills and toxic releases (both down from last year), as well as environmental regulatory fines, which were down by half in 2015.

And it shows where Duke is missing goals. Among other things, there were more power outages than expected last year. And five contractors died on the job.

See the full report on the Duke website, at http://www.duke-energy.com/sustainability/sustainability-reports.asp

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.