Commentary

The rich get richer: Public utility CEO gets $14.4 million “severance”

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

Environmental advocate: Duke Energy needs to change its two-faced approach to solar power

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

Federal judge allows Yadkin River coal ash lawsuit to proceed despite pending state action, citing delays by DENR and Duke Energy

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

Duke Energy: Working with the Kochs to kill solar power

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.

News

Groups ask the court to overturn latest coal ash “sweetheart” deal

Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill in North CarolinaIn just a little over a year, from lawsuit to settlement in 2012, citizen and conservation groups in South Carolina pushed South Carolina Electric & Gas to begin cleaning up coal ash contamination at its sites there.

State environmental regulators stayed out and the utility stepped up, coming up with a plan to remove the ash from lagoons and either re-use it if possible or move it to lined storage elsewhere.

Other utilities there — including Duke Energy — likewise agreed later to do the same and have thus far removed more than a million tons of ash.

Compare that to what’s happened here since 2012. In October of that year, environmental groups asked the  state’s Environmental Management Commission for a ruling on how groundwater contaminations rules applied to coal ash sites here, and prepared for lawsuits against the company for contamination at its Asheville and Riverbend plants.

But unlike what happened in South Carolina, the state here stepped in at the last minute and the utility pushed back. Now, three years and a catastrophic coal ash spill later, those groups are still battling the state and Duke Energy over coal ash management. Instead of clean up, what they’ve gotten is delay, denial and diminution of the company’s obligations.

The September settlement between Duke Energy and the newly-rebranded Department of Environmental Quality, allowing Duke to pay a $7 million fine for groundwater pollution at all 14 of its coal ash sites here, is just the latest chapter in that saga.

That fine is a far cry from the $25 million DEQ had previously imposed on Duke for violations just at the Sutton Steam Plant near Wilmington. Duke subsequently appealed that fine, but then reached a global settlement with the state settling all claims and cases involving all its coal ash plants here.

The agreement also requires no cleanup commitments from Duke beyond what the company has already agreed to do, which involves removal of the ash at only a few plants.

Yesterday the groups filed a lawsuit asking the court to set aside that settlement.

“This latest sweetheart settlement shows what happens when Duke Energy and state bureaucrats get in a room together without public scrutiny,” said Frank Holleman, an attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center representing the groups.

“Citizen action has produced cleanup commitments at seven dangerous, polluting coal ash sites in North Carolina so far, in spite of the state and Duke trying for years to block citizens from protecting our rivers, lakes, and drinking water. That’s why we are asking the court to ensure those efforts can continue.”

Read the new complaint here.