After the Pipeline’s Death, Will Duke Energy Shift From Gas to Renewables?

After the Pipeline’s Death, Will Duke Energy Shift From Gas to Renewables?

Questions for Utility’s Upcoming Earnings Call

WASHINGTON – Last month, the soaring costs and dim future of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline forced Duke Energy and Dominion Energy to cancel the $8 billion project. Dominion reacted wisely, dumping most of its natural gas business in favor of a renewable energy future. But what will Duke do?

Next week, reporters, investors and industry analysts can ask the nation’s largest investor-owned electric utility for answers.

On Monday, Aug. 10, Duke will release its second-quarter financial results in a conference call with investors and analysts. Journalists are barred but can direct questions to Duke’s PR staff in Charlotte, N.C.

Grant Smith, senior energy policy advisor at EWG, said Duke must answer “the $8 billion questions":

  • Will you follow Dominion and other forward-looking utilities in turning away from additional financially foolish and environmentally harmful gas capacity and invest in clean, safe, efficient renewables and storage batteries?
  • Do you see Duke’s plans to spend billions on new gas pipelines and power plants as an acceptable risk for your investors, and if so, how will you deal with the huge stranded costs of gas infrastructure that could be obsolete before they’re completed?

The Duke Energy Accountability Coalition is closely monitoring Duke’s schemes to suppress renewable energy options in its six-state service area, Duke’s deplorable environmental record as one of the nation’s leading emitters of greenhouse gases and producers of toxic coal ash, and its history of ignoring affordability for low-income customers.

Duke has consistently fought against federal and state proposals to boost the expansion of solar and wind power for ratepayers, slowing the nation’s urgently needed transition to clean energy. Nearly all of Duke’s electricity in its monopoly service territories comes from coal, nuclear and natural gas.

Duke was thwarted in its outrageous bid to make Indiana customers pay for its losses from lower demand during the pandemic. But as bill moratoriums expire, many of its 7.7 million customers still face the prospect of repaying billions of dollars in past-due bills or risk having their service disconnected.

Here are other questions that reporters, investors and analysts should press Duke CEO Lynn Good and CFO Steve Young on during Monday’s earnings call:

  • In the wake of the pandemic, does Duke plan to expand low-income assistance, weatherization or solar programs to reduce disconnections and the resulting loss of revenue and increased administrative costs?
  • Cleaning up pollution from Duke’s coal ash pits in North Carolina could top $9 billion. How does the company plan to manage that risk to protect the financial interests of its stockholders?
  • Will growing opposition to natural gas pipelines from ratepayers, advocates and the courts threaten the finances of the company or change its plans?
  • Do you foresee tighter regulations on carbon emissions, particularly if there is a shift in political power in November, affecting your coal and natural gas generation, or plans to invest heavily in additional natural gas infrastructure?  
  • Do you plan to invest more heavily in wind power as a hedge against tougher carbon regulations and the vulnerability of fossil fuel and nuclear generation to severe weather driven by climate change?
  • As you move to extend the licenses of your nuclear reactors past their intended lives, what additional safety, operational and maintenance costs do you anticipate? Do you anticipate greater financial risks to the company from potential accidents as they age, particularly with respect to embrittlement issues? 
  • North Carolina officials are aggressively pursuing more offshore wind power. What role does Duke plan to play? Would a buildout of offshore wind alter your plans to seek nuclear license extensions, given the potential for wind to displace and strand those assets? Would increased buildout of offshore wind alter your plans to add natural gas generation, to reduce the risk of stranding those assets?

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