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dukelogoMcCrory_budget305-aIn case you missed it, reporter Mark Binker at WRAL.com has an important new story in the ongoing saga of Duke Energy, its troubling environmental record and the relationship it maintains with its former employee, Gov. Pat McCrory.

“Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration has made much of its efforts over the past year to “hold Duke Energy accountable” for the company’s handling of coal ash pollution.

But on June 1, while in the midst of pressing legal action against and issuing news releases critical of the nation’s largest utility, top state officials met for a private dinner at the Executive Mansion with Duke executives, according to calendar entries and other records reviewed by WRAL News.

McCrory, his top environmental regulator, his chief of staff and his general counsel attended, as did Duke Chief Executive Lynn Good, the company’s general counsel and the president of the company’s North Carolina operations.

Beyond general statements that environmental policy and job creation were topics of the meeting, neither state officials nor a spokeswoman for Duke have been willing to provide details of the discussion. The conversation came close on the heels of the state fining the company for pollution violations, during legal wrangling over coal ash pollution and while pending legislation on renewable energy and the state’s response to federal clean power rules was debated at the General Assembly.”

The detailed story goes on to explain why this meeting was extremely unusual, how it took place at a critical juncture in the aftermath of the giant 2014 coal ash spill and while state enforcement actions were pending, that no environmental groups ever are granted such access and how neither Duke nor the McCrory administration is willing to disclose what was discussed.

All in all, it’s a very disturbing development and the kind of story that appears to confirm a lot of our worst fears about the current administration. Stay tuned, it’s certain not be the end of the matter. Click here to read the entire story.

Commentary

Another day in the absurdly unequal American economy, another one percenter (this time, the boss of a regulated “public” utility) getting paid to do nothing. The Charlotte Observer has the latest such story:

“Piedmont Natural Gas Chief Executive Officer Tom Skains will receive nearly $14.4 million in severance pay when Duke Energy completes its purchase of the Charlotte-based gas company.

The $4.9 billion acquisition, which was announced in late October, is expected to close in late 2016. Both Piedmont and Duke have said Skains’ decision to retire was his own.

Skains’ severance package includes over $5 million in cash, $8.6 million of equity and a bonus of $749,297, according to a securities filing this week….

Skains is the only Piedmont executive who has made public his plans to leave the company when the deal closes, making him the only one at this time eligible for the severance benefits.”

Skains’ big score calls to mind the great Calvin Trillin and the poem he authored for The Nation magazine a few years back:

The Best Thing You Can Be Is CEO

The best thing you can be is CEO.
No matter what, you always get your dough.
However many people out of work,
You still get every single little perk.
If fired, you are properly consoled,
By floating ‘neath a parachute of gold.
The best thing you can be is CEO.
No matter what, you always get your dough.

Commentary

Solar powerThe following essay was written By Rachel Morales, Clean Energy Organizer at Environment North Carolina.

Don’t let North Carolina’s commitment to solar power fade
By Rachel Morales

Solar power has been an enormous success in North Carolina. During each of the last two years, North Carolina has ranked fourth in the nation in the amount of solar capacity added.

What’s more, that growth is no mistake or accident. In the last decade, our state leaders passed forward-thinking policies, like tax incentives to encourage individuals to buy solar and a “renewable energy portfolio” standard that requires a portion of North Carolina’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources.

Indeed, these and other policies have spurred a solar boom in the state. Solar businesses have popped up statewide and more and more families, businesses, and farms have decided to go solar. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) North Carolina now generates 1,088 megawatts of solar energy each year, enough to power 116,000 homes. A new poll by the ClearPath Foundation found that 84 percent of registered voters “support action to accelerate the development and use of clean energy,” including 72 percent of Republican voters.

At a glance, Duke Energy is also a proponent of solar energy. The energy giant has installed more than 600 megawatts of solar capacity to date and is touting plans to bring more online in 2016.

Unfortunately, behind the scenes, the company has taken action to discourage rooftop solar in the state. Read More

News

Coal ash clean upIn a decision released late yesterday, U.S. District Judge Loretta C. Biggs denied Duke Energy’s request for a dismissal of the case filed by the Yadkin Riverkeeper and the Waterkeeper Alliance, seeking coal ash cleanup at the company’s Buck plant on the Yadkin River.

“The Court is unable to find that DENR was trying diligently or that its state enforcement action was calculated, in good faith, to require compliance with the [Clean Water] Act,” Biggs wrote in her decision.

“Accordingly, DENR’s state enforcement action does not bar the Riverkeepers from pursuing their Seep Claim and Hydrological Connection Claim in this citizen suit.”

Biggs added that agreements between DENR (now DEQ) and Duke Energy to stop investigation and enforcement in the pending state action evidenced a lack of due diligence on the part of the agency.

“DENR’s prosecution does not inspire confidence that its state court action will move expeditiously to a final resolution,” she wrote.

The judge also refused to stay the case, finding that further delay “has the potential to substantially harm the environment and the individuals who live near the Buck plant and draw their daily supply of water from allegedly contaminated wells.”

Instead, the groups will be able to proceed with all claims, including those related to unlawful coal ash seepage, prohibited leaks into the groundwater and river, and dam safety violations.

“This court ruling upholds citizens’ right to enforce the law against polluters like Duke Energy to protect clean water when DENR/DEQ fails to do so,” Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center representing the Riverkeepers, said in a statement.  “The court found that DENR/DEQ had not been diligently pursuing enforcement against Duke Energy’s still leaking coal ash. Instead, DENR/DEQ has been diligently protecting Duke Energy.”

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Commentary, News

Solar powerCharlotte-based Duke Energy, the nation’s utility company, does a lot (and spends a lot) to cozy up to powerful politicians of both parties and to promote an image of a responsible corporate citizen. Unfortunately, when it comes to the well-being of the planet, it’s clear that Duke is solidly aligned with the polluters and exploiters. A new report from the good people at Environment North Carolina explains:

“Duke Energy is front and center in a new report connecting the company to a national network of utility interest groups and fossil-fuel industry-funded think tanks providing funding, model legislation, and political support for anti-solar campaigns across the country.

‘North Carolina is a solar success story, providing a clean, renewable source of energy to power our homes and businesses,’ said Rachel Morales, clean energy organizer with Environment North Carolina. ‘Duke Energy, with help from fossil fuel interest groups, are fighting to take away that progress, preventing us from reaching our full solar potential.’

The report, Blocking the Sun, was released by Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center, and shows that while Duke Energy touts its support for solar energy, the company is simultaneously lobbing against policies that would help solar grow. In Florida, Duke Energy is actively giving campaign contributions to anti-solar politicians. While here in North Carolina, the company is an active opponent of the same policies that have helped North Carolina rank fourth nationally for solar capacity added two years running.

‘It’s tragic that Duke Energy was able to recklessly disrupt North Carolina’s once-growing renewable energy industry,’ said Jim Warren, director of NC WARN, an energy and climate justice group. ‘They are killing jobs and slowing the urgently needed national shift to clean, affordable energy. This excellent report exposes those shameful efforts.’

Duke Energy is not alone in its effort to scale back solar energy’s growth. In September, the American Energy Alliance, a Koch brothers front group, held a forum to voice concerns about the growing renewables market it North Carolina. Representative Mike Hager, R- Rutherford, former Duke Energy employee and outspoken opponent of North Carolina’s renewable energy standards and renewable energy tax incentives, organized the event.

‘By wide margins, North Carolina supports pro-solar policies,’ said Morales. ‘Duke Energy, the Koch brothers, and their friends in the legislature are working to dismantle commonsense energy policy that is working for North Carolina. We need our leaders in the General Assembly to stand up to Duke, and support solar energy initiatives that make it easier for every farm, family, and business to go solar.'”

Click here to download and read the entire report.