Saturday, September 24, 2011

Duke's Rogers on clean energy

Duke Energy is greener than critics give it credit for, CEO Jim Rogers insists after this week's merger hearings before the N.C. Utilities Commission.

The three-day hearing began with a line of speakers blasting Duke, in seeking a merger with Progress Energy, for growing too big and powerful at the expense of its customers. Many implored the company to move away from new nuclear plants and toward sun and wind power.

Duke's already there with wind, Rogers says. The company's unregulated side has built 10 wind farms from Kansas to Pennsylvania since 2007, announcing its fifth in Texas alone this week. The deals are in other states where winds are more reliable and renewable-energy mandates are stiffer, although Duke this week called for bids for North Carolina wind power.

"We're not doing it here, but we're doing it, that's the important thing," Rogers says. "If you put it in the context of not just the state but the nation, we're overachieving."

Not so in North Carolina. Duke's latest planning forecast predicts that renewable energy will shave only 2 percent off summer peak demand by 2030.

Duke ranked 10th-largest among U.S. utilities last year for the amount of solar power it has installed in the Carolinas. It has already satisfied the solar requirements of North Carolina's green-energy law -- 0.2 percent of its total power generation -- through 2017.

But Rogers, at this week's hearing, wouldn't commit to going beyond that tiny mandate. He says Duke is caught between calls for clean energy, which is more expensive to produce, and demands to control costs.

"I was actually signaling that I'm prepared to do more," he says, "but I'm still aware that the Public Staff (the commission arm that represents customers) wants me to control costs for customers."

Rogers said he thinks solar power holds more promise, globally, than wind. Solar installation costs have dropped by about half since 2007, and Rogers expects costs will fall further. We'll learn over the next few years whether Duke finds bargains that are impossible to resist.


Anonymous said...

Shut down the nukes and the coal plants for a week and see how many of the greenies scream about not having power for their latte machines....