TODAY’S STUDY: A Deeper Look At Utilities – Duke/Progress Energy
Duke Energy/Progress Energy
Nancy LaPlaca, July 2016 (Energy and Policy Institute)
Duke Energy, based in North Carolina, is the largest electric utility in the world. Duke emits more carbon pollution than any other US utility, and ranks first in fossil fuel generation and second in coal-fired generation. The majority of Duke’s business is in regulated, monopoly utilities in six U.S. states (North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky). While Duke also owns a commercial arm that has invested in wind and solar power that it sells to other utilities, Duke’s electricity customers in its regulated territory receive an electricity mix that contains next to zero renewable energy. The company has shown little appetite for change: regulatory documents show it intends to power with only 4% renewable power in North Carolina, its largest state, by 2029.
Duke’s fossil and nuclear-dominated strategy have led to a series of scandals in recent years both for its customers and the environment. Duke’s coal ash waste has become a systemic disaster in the Carolinas, culminating in the 2014 coal ash spill on the Dan River. Nuclear construction projects in the Carolinas and particularly Florida have been beset by problems, costing ratepayers billions of dollars.
Duke has protected itself from stricter oversight in its regulated operations by contributing heavily to the state and federal politicians that control its destiny, pouring millions of dollars into campaign contributions and lobbying. Despite massive pressures facing the electric power sector to adapt to technological change that is ushering in a new wave of energy efficiency, rooftop solar power, and distributed energy storage, Duke has yet to show much of an appetite for change. It has aggressively fought efforts to open up North Carolina’s and Florida’s market to non-utility solar providers in an effort to preserve its monopoly business model.
Duke Energy, headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, is the largest electric power holding company in the U.S. and world as measured by number of customers: 7.4 million meters in the U.S.; and by market value ($52.1 billion as of 2/16/16) and capacity (52.7 GW). (NOTE: if the Pepco-Exelon merger is completed, Duke Energy will then be second largest.)
Duke Energy completed its $32 billion merger with Progress Energy in 2012, despite “secret side deals” that were not made public. Duke Energy paid $146 million in 2015 to settle lawsuits that arose from the merger.
-total operating revenues 2015: $23.5 billion
-total assets (power plants, etc.) 2015: $121 billion
-total employees: 29,188
Despite earning $9.2 billion in profits from 2008-2012, Duke Energy had a negative 3.3% tax rate during that time, and received $299 million in tax rebates. A July 2015 study found that Duke Energy is the worst climate offender of all U.S. utilities. Duke Energy was number one for CO2 emissions (136 million tons), and is one of the top SO2 (‘acid rain’) emitters. Duke Energy was #1 in fossil generation, and #2 in coal generation.
A September 2015 study gave Duke Energy an “F,” which it awarded to only four corporations. The report noted that while Duke Energy touts its clean energy portfolio, it actively opposes the Clean Power Plan, and gutted Florida energy efficiency goals by over 90%.
In Florida, a group of utilities, including Duke Energy, have spent $4 million to stop a ballot initiative that would expand distributed solar. Duke Energy’s share so far (as of 5/1/16) is $1.2 million. The third-party sales ban is widely recognized as one reason that Florida’s solar market is so underdeveloped.
In July 2015, the Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC), a municipally owned and operated utility, signed a 20-year contract to purchase solar power at 7 cents/kWh, while gas or coal costs 8 cents/kWh. This is a steep drop from the 19 cents/kWh solar deal the OUC built four years earlier, showing an alternative pathway for Duke Energy if it chose to embrace solar power in Florida…
DUKE ENERGY’S OVERBLOWN CLEAN ENERGY CLAIMS
Duke Energy frequently touts the 3,000 MW of clean energy it owns, but Duke Energy Regulated, which is the monopoly that operates in six states (North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky), owns only 66 MW of clean energy, out of a total of over 50,000 MW of power as of March 31, 2016, while Duke Energy Commercial owns nearly 2,500 MW of solar and wind.
Duke Energy operates as a monopoly in its regulated states, so that homeowners and businesses can’t purchase electricity from any company or person other than Duke Energy. While Duke Energy purports to own a lot of solar, it only owns 66 MW of solar, while Duke Energy’s unregulated subsidiary, Duke Energy Renewables, owns 2,400 MW of solar and wind. Using the names interchangeably is misleading, since they are legally separate entities.
NC, SC, FL and KY all limit the use of “third party” solar financing, resulting in Duke Energy’s virtual solar monopoly in these states. (At least 98% of North Carolina’s 2,000 MW of solar is due to a federal law, PURPA, which Duke Energy has fought to limit. Solar development in North Carolina in 2014 and 2015 would have been seriously curtailed if Duke Energy had been successful at the North Carolina Utilities Commission in changing the terms of the solar PURPA contracts by: (1) limiting the contract length to 5 years and (2) standardizing contracts only up to 100 kW rather than the current 5 MW.)
Duke Energy and Coal Ash… Duke and Natural Gas… Duke Energy’s Nuclear Problems in Florida… Duke Energy’s Money in Politics… DUKE ENERGY INDIANA… Duke Energy and Environmental Justice…