Heading into uptown Thursday? Be prepared for protesters around Duke Energy’s building

Environmental advocates demonstrate outside Duke Energy’s annual shareholder meeting April 5, 2016.
Environmental advocates demonstrate outside Duke Energy’s annual shareholder meeting April 5, 2016. Observer File Photo

Duke Energy’s plan to hold an online-only annual shareholders meeting won’t stop demonstrators from staging their usual protests on the streets of Charlotte.

On Tuesday, activists announced plans for demonstrations to take place outside Duke’s uptown headquarters Thursday, the day of the annual meeting. Over the years the meeting has attracted costumed, chanting protesters to Charlotte, where the annual gathering has traditionally been held. In a new move this year, Duke is eliminating a physical meeting, shifting the event entirely online.

“We are not going to be deterred,” Hanna Mitchell, a Charlotte-based organizer for Greenpeace, told the Observer on Tuesday.

“There are many issues that are still facing communities across Duke’s service territory, and folks are still looking for a venue in which to express their concerns,” Mitchell said. “If we cannot do it in person, we’ll find other ways to do it.”

Mitchell said her organization and about nine others, including Sierra Club and Clean Water for North Carolina, plan activities that will begin around noon, 30 minutes before Duke’s meeting. Plans call for a press conference and rally, as well as some “street theater,” Mitchell said: “We’ll be doing something creative.”

A press release announcing the demonstrations, to take place on the sidewalk by 550 S. Tryon St., says activities will also conduct a “mock shareholder meeting.”

Mitchell said other groups scheduled to participate include the Alliance of Carolinians Together Against Coal Ash, Appalachian Voices and League of Conservation Voters.

In a statement Tuesday, Duke Energy said it is excited about its move to an online format, which it said will enable its more than 1 million shareholders around the world to participate.

“Everyone has the right to voice an opinion and peacefully assemble. We look forward to a constructive meeting with our shareholders on Thursday,” the company said.

The company refused Tuesday to disclose from where the meeting will be broadcast. But it did say that the live video will feature CEO Lynn Good, the company’s general counsel and its head of investor relations.

Other senior management and board members are expected to participate in the meeting in other ways, Duke said.

Critics of the online-only meeting argue the move feels like an attempt by Duke to silence its critics. In recent years, a growing number of companies have also shifted their meetings to a virtual-only format.

“They’re cutting out impacted community members from being able to voice their concerns,” Mitchell said. “It’s entirely likely they were hoping by moving to an online-only format they would deter protesters from coming out.”

Deon Roberts: 704-358-5248, @DeonERoberts