April 5th, 2011

Speakers

Former Chairman and CEO, Duke Energy

Description 

With absent guidance from Congress, energy policymaking in United States has been left to the White House, state lawmakers, and utility executives. Outside of the Oval Office, one of the most influential voices in the debate is Jim Rogers, Chairman and CEO of Duke Energy. On Tuesday, April 5, Rogers spoke at Climate One, in San Francisco, about the future of energy policy in the United States in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. 

Rogers said Duke Energy would continue to pursue new nuclear power, despite movements by some governments to rethink their nuclear strategy. “With respect to Japan,” he said, “we will pause. We will learn. And that will make us stronger and better in the future.” Rogers emphasized the safety record of US nuclear plants – no fatalities, no leakages of radiation in over 40 years – and the fact that nuclear plants supply 70 percent of America’s carbon-free electricity. “If you’re serious about climate legislation, you have to be serious about nuclear because of the role it plays in providing zero greenhouse gases, 24/7,” he said. 

Duke Energy isn’t just betting on a resurgence of nuclear power. Rogers emphasized that the utility is also investing in advanced coal, solar, wind, and energy efficiency. “From an investor’s perspective – and from our customers’ perspective – developing a portfolio is a smarter way to move forward than making a bet on any single fuel,” he said. 

The moves are part of a deliberate strategy to lower Duke Energy’s carbon profile. The company has undertaken three mergers during his tenure, Rogers said, and with each it’s taken on less carbon. The proposed merger with Progress Energy, for instance, would add natural gas and subtract coal from Duke’s fleet. “From an investor’s standpoint,” he said, “I’ve really reduced our exposure to carbon because we’ve reduced, as a total corporation, our reliance on coal.”

Even though today’s Congress appears incapable of tackling climate change, Rogers said he is making decisions now in anticipation of the day a future Congress acts to limit carbon. A critical first step is junking old, dirty coal plants. Rogers noted that the United States electricity mix includes 300,000 megawatts (MW) of coal; 100,000MW comes from plants more than 40 years old and never retrofitted to remove sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, or mercury. “In my judgment those plants should be shut down, and will be shut down over the next decade,” Rogers said.

Many of those obsolete coal plants will be pushed into retirement when greenhouse gas rules being drafted by the US Environmental Protection Agency come into force. Rogers would prefer that Congress, not the EPA, show companies the way forward. 

“My hope, and the reason I don’t oppose [the EPA] doing it, is they act, and you see their rules – very limited because the Clean Air Act wasn’t written to do this. It will become obvious that Congress has to act. And maybe it will force Congress to do its job,” he said.  

 

 

– Justin Gerdes
April 5, 2011
Photos by Ed Ritger
The Commonwealth Club of California