WASHINGTON – Duke Energy’s board of directors has approved a 2.1 percent hike in its quarterly cash dividend for shareholders, even as the investor-owned utility and Republican lawmakers in North Carolina push to raise rates on captive customers.
The decision by Duke’s board will increase the annual dividend rate per share to $3.94, according to a July 14 report by Zacks Equity Research.
“This outrageous reward for Duke Energy’s stockholders is another glaring example of why the investor-owned, monopoly utility model that punishes captive customers for profit should be heavily scrutinized by both lawmakers and regulators,” said Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook.
EWG is a founding member of the Duke Energy Accountability Coalition, which works to highlight how Duke is exacerbating the climate crisis by continuing to promote fossil fuels. “Duke’s long history of jacking up rates in order to build out wasteful, dirty and dangerous fuel sources while shielding investors from shouldering those costs should offend both policymakers and the public,” said Cook.
While looking to benefit its shareholders through the dividend hike, Duke is urging North Carolina to back legislation that would put ratepayers on the hook to recoup up to $50 million the utility plans to spend on a new small modular nuclear reactor. The state House in a 57-49 vote approved the bill, H.B. 951, sending it to the Senate – but opponents are looking to the state’s Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, to block it.
“The influence Duke wields in the legislature is utterly shameful,” said Cook, in response to the energy bill Republican lawmakers jammed through the House on Wednesday. “If this bill becomes law, it will allow Duke to dictate the state’s energy policy for years, and the burden will fall directly on ratepayers and the environment.”
Throughout its vast six-state service area, Duke Energy has repeatedly sought rate increases for its roughly 7 million customers to cover the costs of a number of infrastructure investments, including coal and natural gas plants, pipelines, uneconomic nuclear power plants and coal ash cleanup operations, among other half-baked misadventures that rely on fossil fuels known to prolong the climate crisis.
The Duke bill that Republicans are looking to rush into law would shift the financial risk for seeking an early site permit for several small modular nuclear units from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to customers. Section 3(a) of the bill would let Duke pass along those costs to ratepayers, not shareholders – expenses incurred in advance of the substantial overhead needed for site preparation, construction, operation and maintenance.
Nuclear power plant construction has always been plagued by enormous cost overruns, and the financial disasters seen with efforts to build smaller units in other countries should be a warning sign that larger facilities in the U.S., like Duke’s, will face the same outcome.
An EWG-commissioned paper published earlier this year by two of the world’s leading experts on nuclear power generation lays bare why small modular nuclear reactors are extremely costly and uneconomic, and will almost certainly require far more money to build and operate than any rosy predictions advanced by Duke.
The amount of money Duke has spent and wasted on ill-conceived infrastructure, much of it coming from ratepayers in the form of higher monthly bills, is astonishing, even by monopoly electric utility standards.
Duke has squandered $11.6 billion on scrapped projects alone since 2013, according to an EWG analysis.
H.B. 951 is yet another example of a wasteful Duke policy, because not only would it increase energy costs for ratepayers, but it also falls far short in the carbon dioxide emissions reductions environmentalists and Cooper believe are needed to stave off the worst impacts of the climate crisis.
Ford Porter, a spokesperson for the governor, issued a statement Wednesday blasting the legislation.
“The House Republican energy legislation as currently written weakens the Utilities Commission’s ability to prevent unfair, higher electricity rates on consumers in the short run. And in the long run, this bill falls short on clean energy, which will create jobs and contain costs. The governor encourages legislators to oppose this bill unless important changes are made to fix these significant problems.”
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.