Duke Energy’s future about diversity of sources, CEO says

Lynn Good, CEO of Duke Energy
Lynn Good, CEO of Duke Energy

The 1,500 crews preparing Thursday for expected ice and snow hint at the complexity of plotting Duke Energy’s future, chairman and CEO Lynn Good told the World Affairs Council of Charlotte.

Nobody wants the lights to go out. That fact looms as Duke tests new technology, decides whether to build a new nuclear plant and brings renewable energy onto a decidedly old-fashioned power grid.

Utilities such as Duke face huge investments to modernize operations while per-customer demand for electricity is flat, Good said. The lack of a national energy policy means there’s no shared vision of the future.

“In the United States, I believe the ground game is going to be (decided) state by state,” Good told a full luncheon meeting at the uptown Hilton on Thursday. “It’s going to be company by company.”

For Duke’s part, Good sees a continued mix of generating options fueled by coal, “really important” nuclear energy and natural gas. As Duke has shifted in recent years away from coal, it has become the nation’s second-largest natural gas consumer.

Duke expects to learn this year whether the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will allow it to build a nuclear plant. Duke has a site in Cherokee County, S.C., but has repeatedly moved the plant’s expected operating date as it decides whether to go forward.

The company’s regulated and commercial units have invested nearly $5 billion in solar and wind energy. Integrating green energy has posed new problems: Peak electricity demand in the Carolinas in winter comes each day at 7:15 a.m., when solar panels can’t help.

A student in the audience asked about Duke’s cleanup of coal ash prompted by a 2014 spill into the Dan River. Good again apologized for the spill but later would not say whether ash came up during a dinner meeting last summer with Gov. Pat McCrory, whose administration polices Duke.

“We meet with leaders around the state all the time, whether it’s important stakeholders in the environmental community, whether it’s legislators, regulators or the governor,” she said. “It’s the ordinary course for us. We are an important part of this state, and we want to be engaged with our leaders. We talked about a broad range of things, and it’s part of our outreach to stakeholders.”

Among other takeaways, Good said Duke:

▪ Doesn’t expect any new coal-fired power plants to be built in the U.S. because of federal environmental rules.

▪ Views exploration for gas and oil as too risky for its business model but sees opportunities in infrastructure such as the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (Duke owns a share of the venture).

▪ Sees “lots of potential” in various forms of electrified transportation.

This article was altered on Jan. 22 to correct the name of the World Affairs Council of Charlotte.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender