Duke Energy, based in North Carolina, is the largest electric utility in the United States and the company emits more carbon pollution than any other utility. Duke also ranks first in fossil fuel generation and second in coal-fired generation. The majority of Duke’s business is in regulated, monopoly utilities in six states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. While Duke also owns a commercial arm that has invested in wind and solar power that it sells electricity to other utilities, Duke’s electricity customers in its regulated territory receive an electricity mix that contains next to zero renewable energy. The company has shown little appetite for change. In fact, regulatory documents show it intends to have only 4% renewable power in North Carolina by 2029.
Duke’s fossil and nuclear-dominated strategy have led to a series of scandals in recent years both for its customers and the environment. Duke’s coal ash waste has become a systemic disaster in the Carolinas, culminating in the 2014 coal ash spill on the Dan River. Nuclear construction projects in the Carolinas and particularly Florida have been beset by problems, costing ratepayers billions of dollars.
Duke has protected itself from stricter oversight in its regulated operations by contributing heavily to the state and federal politicians that control its destiny, pouring millions of dollars into campaign contributions and lobbying. Despite massive pressures facing the electric power sector to adapt to technological change that is ushering in a new wave of energy efficiency, rooftop solar power, and distributed energy storage, Duke has yet to show much of an appetite for change. It has aggressively fought efforts to open up North Carolina’s and Florida’s market to non-utility solar providers in an effort to preserve its monopoly business model.
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