New report: Utility CEO’s take home giant salaries, even as companies fumble transition to sustainable energy

Republished from the Energy and Policy Institute report, “Utility CEOs received $2.7 billion in executive compensation from 2017 – 2021”

Duke Energy chief Lynn Good is among the highest paid despite company’s inadequate work to tackle the climate emergency

Most Americans are aware of just how obscenely inflated many CEO salaries have become, but a new report from Joe Smyth of the Energy and Policy Institute on the compensation packages provided to the CEO’s of investor owned utilities really brings it home.

This is from the report:

Investor-owned electric and gas utilities paid their CEOs $2.7 billion between 2017 and 2021, according to corporate data reviewed by the Energy and Policy Institute.

CEOs for the 58 companies reviewed for this analysis received more than $629 million in 2021, a nearly 40% increase from the $451 million paid in 2017. That is far higher than the 14.8% Consumer Price Index inflation rate from January 2017 to December 2021.

The highest paid CEO in 2021 was PG&E’s Patricia Poppe, whose compensation totaled $51.2 million; the company’s proxy statement says that $35.8 million of her compensation package were “one-time awards intended to compensate her for compensation that was forfeited from her prior employer.”

…22 utility companies paid their CEOs more than $50 million during the five year period: NextEra Energy, Southern Company, PG&E, WEC Energy, Duke Energy, Sempra Energy, CenterPoint Energy, Eversource, Dominion Energy, Xcel Energy, Exelon, Berkshire Hathaway, Entergy, DTE Energy, American Electric Power, PPL Corporation, FirstEnergy, Public Service Enterprise Group, Edison International, Consolidated Edison, AES, and Atmos Energy.

The report goes on to explain that while the compensation packages are outrageously extravagant, most are not linked in any way to what is arguably the most urgent task of all carbon pollution producing industries: reducing emissions.

An Energy and Policy Institute report published in 2020 analyzed the executive compensation policies and practices of 19 of the largest investor-owned electric utilities in the US. That analysis found that the utilities’ executive compensation policies did not incentivize decarbonization, despite calls from major investor groups like Climate Action 100+. Of the 19 major utilities analyzed in the EPI report, only Xcel Energy’s executive compensation policies encouraged executives to meet targeted emissions reductions goals.

Perhaps not surprisingly, North Carolina-based Duke Energy does not come out looking good. Smyth reports that CEO Lynn Good raked in nearly $81.5 million between 2017 and 2021 and that the company received a “D-” grade for linking corporate executive compensation policies effectively incentivize decarbonization. Midwest-based Xcel Energy in contrast, got a “B” for its efforts in this realm.

Click here to read Smyth’s report, “Utility CEOs received $2.7 billion in executive compensation from 2017 – 2021,” and here to read “Pay for climate performance,” by the group As You Sow.

Note: Policy Watch reporter Lisa Sorg will report Thursday morning on a controversial plan recently approved by the North Carolina Utilities Commission in which it spells out ways in which Duke Energy will be directed to reduce carbon emissions.

In open letter to Spellings and Ross, veteran academic urges dramatic overhaul of UNC System governance

Margaret Spellings

Tom Ross

There are few signs that Republican legislative leaders have any interest in listening to — much less acting upon — any recommendations that may be forthcoming later this year from the new Commission on the Governance of Public Universities in North Carolina that Gov. Roy Cooper established this past November. After all, as Joe Killian reported in great detail at the time, it’s pretty clear that the commission, which is headed by a pair of former system presidents (Margaret Spellings and Tom Ross) who were effectively ousted by those same GOP lawmakers, is unlikely to be handing out any “attaboys” to the General Assembly.

This from Joe’s story:

North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) wasted no time dismissing the commission and its recommendation, issuing a statement Tuesday saying the legislature has no interest in making changes to the UNC System “regardless of whatever report this politically motivated commission produces.”

Moore has been personally implicated in a series of incidents involving political pressure in the UNC System and at its campuses, most recently allegations he pushed UNC-Wilmington trustees to name an old friend chancellor there.

His dismissal of the commission before its work has begun is not unusual, given the fraught political atmosphere that has engulfed the system for more than a decade.

Timothy Kaufman-Osborn – Photo:

Notwithstanding the early dismissals by Moore and company, there are those who are paying close attention to the Spellings-Ross commission and taking its work seriously — even if it’s more for the potential paths to progress it might chart for the future than any near-term reforms it might produce. One such close observer is veteran academic Timothy Kaufman-Osborn, the Baker Ferguson Professor of Politics and Leadership Emeritus at Whitman College in Washington state.

Soon after the commission was established, Kaufman-Osborn, who has authored several articles on academic governance, as well as the new book, The Autocratic Academy: Reenvisioning Rule Within America’s Universities (Duke University Press, 2023), penned a lengthy open letter to Spellings and Ross is which he urged them to seriously consider recommending a dramatic change to the way the UNC System is organized. In the letter, Kaufman-Osborn touts an interesting and provocative argument explored in his new book — namely that the corporate structure under which universities like UNC are organized — needs to be changed.

Kaufman-Osborn describes UNC’s governance system as a “worst of all worlds” autocracy in which the Board of Governors is utterly unaccountable to faculty, staff, campus trustees and students it oversees. As he puts it:

Rightly understood, in short, faculty and staff alike are subjects of an incorporated “body politic” ruled by outsiders selected by and beholden to other outsiders; and that constitution of rule is more akin to an imperial relationship than one befitting a nation built on a revolutionary rejection of English absolutism and endorsement of the principles of republicanism.

As an alternative, Kaufman-Osborn urges consideration of a more democratic model in which UNC would be organized under state law as a “membership corporation.” Read more

Today’s ‘must read’ op-ed: Key lessons from the Christmas blackouts

(Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

As Policy Watch environmental investigative reporter Lisa Sorg reported yesterday, Tuesday’s meeting of the state Utilities Commission produced a great deal of useful information about the Christmas week blackouts that left hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians shivering in the dark for several hours. It turns out that Duke Energy had many good reasons to think it was prepared and had the situation under control, only to then find itself overrun by a cascade of unforeseen (if, perhaps, not unforeseeable) dominoes — soaring demand, equipment failures, and the unavailability of power from other places that it had anticipated obtaining, just to name three.

One hope fervently that Duke (and other electricity providers) take several lessons to heart from the disaster. As I pointed out in yesterday’s daily radio commentary, the growing global climate emergency and the increased frequency of extreme weather events it is producing make it clearer than ever that now is the time for immediate and sustained attention (and investments) from utility companies, regulators, and elected leaders if we’re to build and maintain a strong and reliable system in the decades ahead.

Happily, a lot of smart people have been thinking about the kinds of changes in this realm that need to take place. For an excellent example, be sure to check out this morning’s featured op-ed on by Carrie Clark of the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters. As Clark explains, there are some obvious lessons on which we need to act, including speeding our transition away from fossil fuels.

Here’s the excellent conclusion to her essay:

The lessons we should learn from the storm are clear in Duke’s responses to Gov. Cooper and the Utilities Commission:

  1. Climate change is causing more extreme weather, which is unpredictable. We are facing more historic storms, not fewer;
  2. Gas and coal aren’t always dependable in extreme weather, while renewable energy with battery storage is more reliable.

Under Gov. Cooper’s leadership, North Carolina is quickly becoming a clean energy powerhouse, with high-paying jobs and associated economic development, along with the obvious climate benefits. The costs of solar and wind generation and battery storage are going down.

By signing the Inflation Reduction Act into law, President Joe Biden ensured these costs will continue to drop. In fact, a new study by the clean energy think tank RMI shows the Inflation Reduction Act makes clean energy cheaper than more than 90% of proposed gas plants.
Similarly, a study Duke commissioned from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory revealed that Duke could most economically meet the carbon reduction targets mandated by the law by tripling the proposed solar on its grid by 2030.

Fortunately, the Utilities Commission highlighted both the Duke outages and the Inflation Reduction Act in its order to Duke. When Duke presents its revised plan to the Utilities Commission in September, they will no longer be able to credibly say natural gas is the cheapest and most reliable path.

Fortunately, their Christmas failure shed light on the best way forward for our state. This storm could ultimately lead to a real gift for the people of North Carolina, not just a lump of coal.

Click here to read and share Clark’s entire essay.

The week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

Photo: Getty Images

1. A holiday wish for North Carolina pols and their pals (Commentary)

Well, the season of giving is upon us again, and while it’s clear that North Carolina ethics statutes prevent public servants and other “covered persons” from receiving any gifts that might influence their official actions, the law includes a number of – nudge-nudge, wink-wink – exceptions, so one hopes that perhaps there is a way to make the following list a reality.

For Senator-elect Ted Budd: A collector’s edition set of official Donald Trump superhero trading cards. Barring some unforeseen circumstance, Budd will still be a U.S. Senator in the year 2029 – a point in time at which, the good Lord willing – Donald Trump will be a distant and almost forgotten dot in the national rearview mirror. Like old baseball cards, perhaps a little Trump-o-bilia can provide Budd with a measure of nostalgia for a time in which a right-wing politician could get elected to high office simply by packing heat, mouthing nonsense about immigrants, and flirting with coup plotters like Mark Meadows (see below).

For the Berger boys – Senator Phil Senior and Supreme Court Justice Phil Junior: The latest edition of the party game “Family Table Topics.” Since we know they would never discuss business…

[Read more…] ===

2. New Durham Public Schools policy to support LGBTQ students wins accolades

Queer author and former DPS student says such a policy “would have made a world of difference in my childhood”

As a Durham middle school student in the late 1990s, Maximillian Matthews struggled to find his sexual identity. Matthews, who identifies as queer, was bullied and taunted. He felt unseen and unsupported by teachers, counselors and school administrators.

At age 12 or 13, while grieving the death of his father, Matthews considered taking his own life. He decided against it because he is an only child and didn’t want to leave his mother to grieve the loss of his dad alone.

His father’s death, the struggle with his identity and sexuality, along with not understanding what was happening to him emotionally and mentally, sent Matthews spiraling to a dark place.

[Read more…] ===

3. A look at juvenile justice in North Carolina, three years into Raise the Age

Nearly 13,500 teenagers had their crimes adjudicated in the juvenile justice system; under the old model these youths would have pled their cases in adult courts. 

In 2019 North Carolina followed the rest of the country’s lead and raised the age of juvenile jurisdiction for nonviolent crimes to age 18, meaning many 16- and 17-year old children would be spared punishment in the adult justice system.

Last year, lawmakers raised the “floor” of juvenile jurisdiction from age 6 to 10, so Kindergartners could no longer be sent to juvenile court for, to take an example from the Department of Public Safety website, stealing a candy bar from the checkout aisle.

New state data offer a glimpse into how these policies are playing out, three years into Raise the Age and one year into raising the ‘minimum age’ law.

[Read more…] ===

Photo: Steve Liss for the NC Poverty Research Fund

4. New ‘must read’ report shines a light on women and poverty in North Carolina

Over 3.2 million North Carolinians are poor or near poor, and many more experience economic instability and challenges over time. We’ve described some of these communities and the hurdles they face, individually and collectively, in our prior research. With this report, we examine the ways that women in North Carolina are caught in the crosshairs of irreconcilable social and economic demands.

This state is not unique in this regard. But conditions in North Carolina strengthen the headwinds faced by women everywhere. The state’s failure to expand Medicaid, for example, deprives hundreds of thousands of women of health insurance. Without health insurance, women of working age can’t access treatments that would enable them to find or keep a job. Low wage work is more pervasive in North Carolina than in other states.

[Read more…] ===

Photo: Getty Images

5. After substation shooting, federal regulator orders review of security standards

Recent North Carolina attack helps spur new national initiative

Less than two weeks after gunfire damaged two Duke Energy substations in Moore County, knocking out power to about 45,000 people, federal regulators have ordered a review of security standards at electric transmission facilities and control centers.

Last Thursday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), which sets and enforces reliability standards for the bulk power system in the U.S., Canada and part of Mexico, to review existing “physical security” rules for the components of the power system.

The order, which requires NERC to deliver within 120 days its report on the effectiveness and applicability of current standards and whether improvements are necessary, comes amid reports of similar attacks at other sites across the country.

[Read more…] ===

Sheriff Jody Greene – Photo: Columbus County Sheriff’s office

6. Jody Greene’s racist comments cost Columbus County Sheriff’s Office military equipment

The Department of Public Safety has suspended the Columbus County Sheriff’s Department from participating in a program that allows law enforcement agencies to acquire surplus military equipment.

The suspension is the latest development for Jody Greene, the Columbus County sheriff who resigned, and then was re-elected, after making racist comments about his Black employees. Greene has obtained $3.8 million in surplus military equipment since he took office in 2018.

Those who participate in the Department of Defense Law Enforcement Support Program must abide by certain terms, Gregory Weavil, state coordinator with the Department of Public Safety’s Law Enforcement Support Services (LESS), wrote in a letter to the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office dated Dec. 16.

“One of those conditions is to comply with anti-discrimination laws and regulations, such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” Weavil wrote…

[Read more…] ===

7. Rev. William Barber to lead new center at Yale Divinity School

Rev. William Barber, former head of the N.C. NAACP, will lead a new center at the Yale Divinity School.

Barber announced the creation of the Center for Public Theology & Public Policy in a Twitter post Monday, saying it will “prepare a new generation of moral leaders to be active participants in creating a just society.”

Barber plans to step down from his leadership of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, which he has led for 30 years, and begin teaching classes at Yale’s campus in New Haven, Connecticut, beginning with the new semester in January.

“I’ve been a pastor & moral activist for 35 yrs,” Barber wrote in a thread of posts. “I want to share what I’ve learned & lead research on the deep connection between theology & just policies.”

[Read more…] ===

Photo: U.S. Forest Service

8. Climate change is forcing cities to rethink their tree mix

NC State researcher, other experts say a commitment to planning and species diversity have become essential 

Cities need to plant more trees. But not just any trees.

As communities prepare for a massive influx of federal funding to support urban forestry, their leaders say the tree canopy that grows to maturity 50 years from now will need to be painted with a different palette than the one that exists today.

“You need a tree that’s going to survive the weather of today and the climate of the future,” said Pete Smith, urban forestry program manager with the Arbor Day Foundation, a Nebraska-based nonprofit that supports tree planting and care.

[Read more] 

9. Weekly Radio Interviews and Daily Radio Commentaries:

Click here for the latest radio interviews and commentaries with Policy Watch Director Rob Schofield.



10. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

Civil rights attorney Allison Riggs tabbed for the state Court of Appeals

Attorney Allison Riggs, seen here in a screenshot from an NC Policy Watch interview, was appointed today to the state Court of Appeals by Gov. Roy Cooper.

Gov. Roy Cooper today appointed Allison Riggs, Co-Executive Director and Chief Counsel for Voting Rights at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice to the state Court of Appeals. Riggs will serve the final two years of the term of Richard Dietz, who was elected to the state Supreme Court last month.

In making the announcement, Cooper lauded Riggs’ experience and intellect, saying in a press statement, “Allison Riggs is a brilliant attorney and an experienced litigator who has spent her career fighting for fairness and defending people’s constitutional rights. I am confident that she will continue to serve our state with distinction and be a great asset to the bench.”

Riggs has gained prominence in recent years as an outspoken critic of gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts and defender of the rights of racial minorities. She joined the Southern Coalition in 2009 under then executive director and founder Anita Earls. Earls was elected to the North Carolina Supreme Court in November 2018.

Riggs was among the attorneys who successfully represented Common Cause North Carolina in the state court case of Harper v. Hall that resulted in the North Carolina Supreme Court striking down the General Assembly’s unlawful gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts. She also served as a member of the legal team that defended the ruling earlier this month when legislators appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case now known as Moore v. Harper.

Common Cause North Carolina executive director Bob Phillips, who has worked with Riggs for several years, lauded her selection.“Allison is an extraordinary attorney with true dedication to the law, justice and our constitution,” he said. “She has been a tireless advocate for protecting the rights of all North Carolinians, standing up for marginalized communities and holding those in power accountable to the people of our state. We congratulate Allison on joining the North Carolina Court of Appeals.”

Riggs’ co-executive director at the Southern Coalition, Ryan Roberson, expressed mixed emotions about the news. “It is with both joy and sadness that I congratulate Allison on this well-deserved appointment,” said Roberson. “I know she will continue to serve the citizens of North Carolina well from the bench. I also want to thank her for her years of service to SCSJ and her help growing the organization — it’s because of her work that we’ll be able to continue serving people all across the Southern United States.”

Click here to see Riggs’s remarks in a video of an August NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation event that explored the Moore v. Harper case.