Duke Energy shareholders elected directors and voted on other questions Thursday at the company's first virtual annual meeting. Ballots and questions for the CEO were submitted in advance, or by clicking a button on a special web page.
Duke CEO Lynn Good sat on a blue-curtained set and looked toward the camera as she opened the meeting at an undisclosed location.
“Good afternoon, and welcome to the 2017 annual meeting of shareholders,” she said.
Shareholders, and even the company's directors, weren't there, instead joining in by internet and telephone. Good talked about the change in format.
“We believe it allows our shareholders around the globe the opportunity to participate more easily in the governance of the company … through the use of technology, including the web and telephone ...”
It was tightly scripted, lasting exactly one hour. There were glitches: Audio problems prevented one shareholder from pitching a resolution calling for a study of the health risks of coal. It had to be read by a company official.
In the end, Duke shareholders elected all the company-nominated directors. And they voted down the health study and two other shareholder proposals by wide margins. One called for a report on Duke's lobbying expenses. Another asked for a study of how global warming might affect Duke's businesses.
Gone from past in-person meetings were loud demonstrations, statements challenging the CEO, or, really, any sort of unscripted exchange.
At the meeting's end, Good answered questions submitted in advance about coal ash cleanups, the health of the company's retirement funds, and other topics. Duke says it will post answers to all questions received on its website.
The company wouldn't say where Good was as she spoke.
But that didn't stop about two dozen demonstrators from gathering outside the company's headquarters in uptown Charlotte.
They chanted: “What do we want? Clean energy! When do we want it? Now!”
They rallied against fossil fuels and in support of renewable energy. And they accused of Good of “hiding,” while calling for a return to in-person annual meetings.
At the meeting, Good was asked if Duke would consider a hybrid annual meeting - both in-person and on the web. Her short answer: No. The new format is an "enhancement," she said, that lets all of Duke's more than 1 million shareholders join in.
Duke-Energy.com - Read Duke’s 2017 annual meeting proxy statement, with details on directors, shareholder resolutions and company performance in 2016. (PDF)