Greenpeace Scolds Duke's Jim Rogers on the Environment

Duke Energy chairman, president and chief executive officer Jim Rogers, Photograph by Aaron M. Sprecher/Bloomberg

We’ve given Jim Rogers, the outspoken chief executive of Duke Energy, plenty of real and virtual ink over the years—and for good reason. He’s the biggest personality in the power industry, the head of the country’s largest utility, and an intriguing advocate for moving away from fossil fuel, even as he has burned more of it than just about anyone you’re likely to meet.

Some environmentalists think Rogers is more wind than substance when it comes to going green. The question of the executive’s legacy will be front and center in Duke’s hometown of Charlotte, N.C., this week, as Rogers gets ready for his final annual shareholders’ meeting on May 2. He has announced that he will retire by year’s end.

For background on Rogers, check out this Bloomberg Businessweek profile. In a more recent piece, we suggested he would make a good Energy Secretary for President Obama’s second term. (To our amazement, Obama went with someone else.)

The idea behind our unsolicited nomination of Rogers was that, as an industry heavy who recognizes the need to address climate change, he would be in a good position to push policies aimed at reducing global warming. Since 2007, Duke has invested more than $2.5 billion to expand its commercial wind and solar business, according to a draft of a speech Rogers intends to deliver at the shareholder meeting.

Greenpeace and a local environmental group called NC WARN bought a full-page ad in the May 1 edition of the Charlotte Observer to scold Rogers for not having done nearly enough. “Jim Rogers has seven months to determine how history will remember his eight years as the CEO of one of the world’s largest electric utilities: a leader who helped start a clean energy revolution, or a laggard who talked about global warming but never acted to stop it,” the ad says below a (not terribly flattering) image of Rogers choosing between clean and fossil-fuel energy options. The ad kicks off a campaign to pressure Rogers and highlight an alleged disparity between his words and deeds, according to a press release issued by Greenpeace and NC WARN.

The release adds: “While Duke’s recent sustainability report announced increased investment in renewable energy, almost all of that investment is planned for outside of the Carolinas, and even counting renewable energy outside of the Carolinas, Duke admits that its greenhouse emissions will continue to rise. Duke is shipping clean energy jobs west, and sticking the ratepayers in its home state with the pollution and soaring bills.”

Tom Williams, a Duke spokesman, points out in an e-mail: “We build renewables where there is a demand for renewables, and we do so largely to help other utilities meet their quotas” under state-imposed renewable portfolio standards. “We are building and buying renewables in North Carolina, where there is a standard we must meet, and we are on track. Some environmental groups want all renewables, all the time. The state [rate-setting] commissions would not allow that, since it is not ‘least cost’ and could never get through the certificate process we follow for every new power plant.”

In his speech, Rogers is set to say, “By 2015, we expect to reduce our regulated generation fleet’s emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides by about 90 percent and 80 percent, respectively, from 2005 levels.”

How far and how fast the power industry should be moving is not something Rogers and Greenpeace are likely to agree on any time soon.

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