Duke Energy CEO Defends Gas Investments During Annual Meeting

May 7, 2020

Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good faced questions at the Charlotte-based company's annual meeting Thursday from shareholders concerned that the company isn't reducing the use of fossil fuels fast enough. 

Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good

Climate change and renewable energy were recurring themes during the 53-minute meeting, which took the form of an audio-only webcast. 

Three shareholder proposals failed to pass, including two that would have required annual reports of Duke's political contributions and lobbying expenses. Supporters argued such reports are needed to ensure that Duke's spending aligns with its goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

Mary Minette of Mercy Investment Services made a pitch for the resolution lobbying. She said it's needed because "Duke is a member of several trade associations whose positions on climate change and climate policy do not align with its stated commitment to a low-carbon future." 

Two examples: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable.

"Both have lobbied for many years against effective climate change regulations," Minette said.  

Q&A For The CEO 

After the main business was done, Good answered questions submitted in advance by shareholders. They included several that questioned why Duke continues to invest in fossil-fuel projects like gas-fired power plants and the $8 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would carry fracked gas from West Virginia to Virginia and eastern North Carolina. 

Good said Duke and its critics agree on goals but not on the tactics for achieving them. She said gas has a role alongside solar and wind energy. 

"I am disappointed to learn that the tool of natural gas is under such assault because it's important as we continue to retire coal, as we continue to add more renewables, and offer a resource like natural gas to mask that intermittency," she said.  

Good said she has to worry about reliability and cost. Meanwhile, she said the company is waiting for improvements in technologies like battery storage for renewable energy. She also said critics have overlooked Duke's progress, such as reducing carbon emissions by 39% since 2005. 

The lobbying resolution got votes from only 42% of voting shares. The resolution requiring a report of political contributions got just 38%. Meanwhile, Duke shareholders also rejected a proposal to require the chair of the board to be independent. It got just 37%. 

Shareholders overwhelmingly approved the company's board of directors slate, and a shareholder proposal to eliminate provisions in Duke's Certificate of Incorporation that require more than a simple majority for some shareholder votes.

Good also talked about steps Duke has taken during the coronavirus pandemic. That includes shifting 18,000 employees, or more than 60% of its workforce, to work remotely.  

Duke says it will answer all the questions submitted by shareholders on its website along with a replay of the meeting. 

Duke Watchdogs Unite 

Meanwhile, Duke's critics are getting organized. A group called the Duke Energy Accountability Coalition announced before the meeting it has formed to monitor the big utility across all six states where it operates. The coalition says it will "hold Duke accountable" for its lobbying, environmental issues and energy affordability.