Advocates seek changes to Duke Energy’s charter

The Asheville power plant is Duke Energy’s largest electric generating facility in western North Carolina.
The Asheville power plant is Duke Energy’s largest electric generating facility in western North Carolina.

A Durham advocacy group asked Attorney General Roy Cooper on Wednesday to take legal action to amend Duke Energy’s corporate charter, citing Duke’s contributions to climate change among other claims.

NC WARN, a frequent critic of Duke, said the state constitution and general statutes allow corporate charters to be amended. WARN filed the “emergency complaint” on behalf of itself and six other groups.

“The attorney general has the authority to intervene on behalf of the people of North Carolina in order to police any corporation that abuses its power and recklessly endangers peoples’ lives and economic well-being,” the complaint said.

Duke responded by calling the complaint a “nuisance filing that drains taxpayer dollars and chews up state resources.”

“This is the latest in a string of meritless allegations and gimmicks by NC WARN that are consistently rejected by regulators and an informed public,” spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said. “It’s unfortunate when discussions of our energy future are clouded by misinformation.”

Noelle Talley of the attorney general’s staff said, “Our office will review the group’s submission.”

WARN said Charlotte-based Duke is the largest emitter of carbon dioxide, the gas linked to climate change, among U.S. utilities.

The group also claimed that Duke exhibits a “persistent pattern of criminal activity,” including $102 million the company paid to settle federal charges over its 2014 coal ash spill into the Dan River.

It said Duke is a polluter, works against the interest of low-income customers, blocks development of renewable energy and uses its influence to control political debate.

The complaint asked the attorney general’s staff to seek three amendments to Duke’s corporate charter.

The amendments WARN seeks would: Phase out the remaining seven coal-fired power plants still operating in the state by 2020; stop Duke from what WARN called blocking competition in the state; and prohibit Duke from making political contributions and “backroom deals” to assert political influence.

Duke defended its work to reduce emissions and develop clean energy.

“Duke Energy does more to advance renewable energy and environmental protection in a day than NC WARN has in its lifetime,” Sheehan said.

The company said it has invested $4 billion in solar and wind energy. It has retired 4,400 megawatts of coal-fired generation and reduced carbon emissions by 20 percent, sulfur dioxide by 85 percent and nitrogen oxides by 64 percent since 2005.

About 58,000 consumers have received energy-efficiency improvements through Duke’s programs for low-income customers, the company said.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender