To reach ‘net zero,’ Duke Energy doubles down on gas and nukes

WASHINGTON – Flying in the face of the nation’s urgent need to transition rapidly to clean and safe energy, Duke Energy is doubling down on plans to invest billions of dollars in natural gas plants and nuclear power.

Duke, headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., serves 7.2 million customers in six states, more than any other investor-owned electric utility in the U.S. It has pledged to reach “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050. But to get there, rather than going all in on solar, wind, storage batteries and energy efficiency, Duke plans to keep its current fleet of nuclear reactors and natural gas plants operating for decades to come.

Last week, in a Washington Post interview, Duke CEO Lynn Good said, “Frankly, I don’t see a way for us to reach our carbon goals without nuclear being part of the equation.” She also emphasized further investment and permitting for additional natural gas plants as part of the company’s energy mix.

Good failed to mention that the technology surrounding small modular nuclear reactors is at least a decade away, if not longer, and cost overruns from both federal and private investment in the not-yet-realized technology is already in the billions of dollars. Because state regulators guarantee monopoly utilities a healthy return on investment in new power plants, Duke’s interest in expensive new nuclear designs is likely due to the prospect of high profits, rather than providing reliable, least cost service to customers.

Good also didn’t mention that the production, transportation and burning of natural gas are major contributors to the climate crisis. According to the federal Energy Information Administration, carbon emissions from natural gas plants surpassed those from coal plants several years ago. 

Good claimed Duke is investing heavily in solar power in the Carolinas but provided little detail about how the utility will provide solar to its ratepayers.

She didn’t mention that the utility has repeatedly fought to deny its captive ratepayers the financial and environment benefits of renewable energy, including community solar. In fact, Duke has spent enormous resources lobbying state lawmakers and regulators in North Carolina to deny its customers access to solar energy. 

Duke is systematically undermining customers’ ability to generate their own solar power and their savings from customer-owned solar and energy efficiency investments. For instance, in North Carolina, Duke has more than doubled the flat monthly charge just for being hooked up to the grid; lobbied state lawmakers to kill legislation that would have made it easier to buy solar panels; and stopped the extension of a renewable energy tax credit.

Good claimed that last year Duke slashed fossil fuel operations emissions by almost 40 percent. But an analysis by the nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization Energy and Policy Institute shows that in the near term, Duke plans to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions less than 2 percent per year, leaving most reductions for after 2030 – even though significant declines in greenhouse gases are achievable in this decade with current technology. 

“As with virtually everything Duke and its CEO claim about the utility’s commitment to investing in the clean energy future, the devil is in the details,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “The truth is Duke has been and continues to be a leading laggard among electric utilities when it comes to renewable energy and its climate, health and economic benefits.”


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. Visit for more information.

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