Earth & Energy

Duke Energy goes online and personal

One of Duke Energy’s coal-fired power plants hits the dust.
One of Duke Energy’s coal-fired power plants hits the dust. Duke Energy

The video will warm the hearts of green-energy advocates: Duke Energy’s coal-fired power plants imploding to the tune of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.”

The twist is that the video is on Duke’s own website, a blend of media and marketing that is called brand journalism.

The new site launched Monday with an image-heavy lineup of human interest stories and how-to guides.

Duke employees tell family stories, from a parent’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease to service in the famed Tuskeegee Airmen. A first-person piece on light pollution of the night sky covers Duke’s effort to combat it. Two managers discuss how to buy the right light bulb.

Similar pieces had for years been circulated among Duke’s 28,000 employees through an intranet portal and newsletter. The new website is open to the public and offers free content for news media.

“What occurred to us is that a lot of the stories we’ve been telling ourselves could be shared with mass or niche audiences,” said Greg Efthimiou, Duke’s director of content and employee communications.

Duke looked at similar sites by General Electric, Wells Fargo and Microsoft in building its own product.

The site ventures, carefully, into subjects that have earned Duke public scorn.

A piece on the Dan River quotes an environmental advocate describing the “devastating blow” of Duke’s coal ash spill two years ago, and the $102 million criminal settlement that followed. The story adds that Duke is now a “different company” working to regain public trust, but minimizes environmental impacts that some scientists say might not be clear for years.

Clicks count online, and Duke scored big in 2015 with a piece on a 55-year employee who deals with a regularly infuriated public about its tree-trimming practices. The story or related video landed on Youtube, Twitter and last month the New York Times.

“The point of the website is to share remarkable stories, but we’re really determined to bring balance and transparency to that,” Efthimiou said.

One of Duke’s North Carolina regulators, the Department of Environmental Quality, also launched a blog on its website last August.

In recent months the blog has mixed news, press-release style, with jabs at President Obama’s carbon-cutting rules for power plants and the Environmental Protection Agency for delays in coal ash cleanups.

“Environmentally Speaking” is an outlet the agency uses to discuss its views on national and state-level environmental issues, give updates on important topics such as coal ash and offshore energy, and discuss other items of interest as they happen,” Crystal Feldman, DEQ’s chief spokeswoman, said by email. “We hope this format will be a more immediate way for us to connect with the public and share what’s happening here at DEQ.”

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender