Duke CEO takes grilling from shareholders at
1:00 pm
Thu May 7, 2009

Duke CEO takes grilling from shareholders at annual meeting

Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers worked to persuade shareholders at their annual meeting in Charlotte this morning that the company is on the right track with regard to renewable energy. Some shareholders were unconvinced. WFAE's Julie Rose reports:

Most of the comments started out with a compliment.

"I applaud you for the wind and the solar and the smart grid technologies," said shareholder and environmental activist Jim Warrne. "I'm really concerned that this is not the time to be building forward building coal-fired power plants. And not the time to be a daredevil corporation."

Warren was the first of half a dozen shareholders at the microphone urging Duke CEO Jim Rogers to abandon the Cliffside coal plant under construction in Rutherford County. They say it's no longer needed because people are conserving more energy and federal legislation is likely to make coal burning more expensive.

But Rogers stuck to his usual refrain, "We believe that Cliffside allows us to shut down a thousand megawatts of high emitting plants and allows us to make that transition to a low-carbon world."

Duke Energy says the new Cliffside plant will be one of the cleanest coal-burning units in the country and has been granted status as only a minor emitter of pollutants like mercury and sulfur dioxide. After the meeting, Rogers admitted to reporters that, "the decision to go forward with Cliffside was the single toughest decision that I made since becoming CEO of the combined company."

He made the decision because the new plant allows Duke to decommission several higher polluting plants.

Other shareholders criticized Rogers for continuing to buy coal mined through mountaintop removal, which has demolished large portions of the Appalachian Mountains.

"Just because mountaintop removal is legal, is it moral to use such coal to maximize profits when alternative sources of Appalachian coal are available at comparable prices?" asked shareholder Scott Gollwitzer.

Duke Energy has worked to squelch legislation that would ban mountaintop coal removal because it relies heavily on the practice. However, Rogers did concede some discomfort with the environmental consequences of it:

"For us it's a little bit of a balancing act, but I think you're on the right side of this issue and in time, they will limit mountaintop mining," said Rogers.

"So it's neither moral or immoral?" pressed Gollwitzer. "It was a yes or no question."

"Oh, it's way above my pay grade to determine whether it's moral or immoral," says Rogers, laughing. "Go to the Bible."

Rogers took pointed questions from shareholders for more than an hour, but later commented that the meeting was less contentious than last year. Critics were more vocal outdoors, where about 30 protestors picketed Duke's uptown headquarters.

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