On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers went on CNN and made a straightforward case for the reelection of President Obama, at least in terms of energy policy. Charlotte-based Duke Energy might not yet be a household name outside of its home base in the south, but its recent $32 billion merger with Progress Energy has made it the largest electric utility in the U.S. So, when Jim Rogers talks about energy policy, it’s worth a listen.
4 Years of Progress on Energy
Rogers appeared as one of the guests on Soledad O’Brien’s “Starting Points” show on Monday, and started off his part of the conversation by making a common-sense observation about the difference between running a business and running a country:
“… as a CEO, you have to balance interest of your shareholders as well as your customers. But being a President of the United States, you have to balance many stakeholders’ interest and come up with the right solution and get the balance right between the role of business and the role of government.”
This stakeholder view of public governance dovetails neatly with President Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy.
Rogers cites the Administration’s continued support for natural gas and nuclear power as positive developments for his industry. He also includes improvements in energy efficiency and energy diversity on the list, and that’s where things get interesting:
“My view is that we built power plants for 40 years and we need clarity in terms of the road forward. I believe eventually there will be regulation of carbon in this country. I think it’s critical in the long term to have the smallest emissions footprint possible when you generate electricity.”
The Road Forward for U.S. Energy
If you want to see what Rogers sees along the road forward, a look at some of Duke Energy’s initiatives over the past few years provides a pretty clear picture.
Rogers hints that an all but exclusive focus on building new centralized power plants is not necessarily the way forward, and in fact Duke Energy has been one of the early promoters of distributed solar power.
Aside from advancing its interests in conventional fuels, Duke Energy has been investing in wind farms and it has launched itself into a “sister cities” field research partnership with China on new energy technologies including solar power, smart grid technology, energy efficiency, and battery storage.
The company also recently partnered with Siemens and Ford in an electric vehicle infrastructure research project sponsored by the Department of Energy.
Carbon capture by algae is another area that Duke is exploring. Its East Bend coal-fired power plant is serving as the proving ground for a system that will feed captured carbon dioxide to algae, which can then be used for animal feed or biofuel production.
In a similarly ambitious project, Duke Energy has partnered with Google and Duke University to convert hog waste to natural gas for generating electricity.
The company’s merger with Progress Energy was also partly motivated by the bottom line benefits of getting more use out of Duke’s existing pumped storage hydroelectric resources (unlike conventional hydro dams on rivers, a pumped storage facility recycles the same water from one reservoir to another).
As for Progress itself, before its merger with Duke, the company was already making a name for itself in sustainability initiatives, including the promotion of offshore wind power.
The New Energy Road Runs Straight through Charlotte
Though an open discussion of carbon regulation and climate change is not part of the political conversation in this election cycle, when you layer all of Duke’s activities onto Rogers’s promotion of Charlotte as an international hub for energy innovation and new green jobs, you can see it’s no accident that the Democratic National Committee decided to locate the Democratic National Convention in that city.
It’s a clever way of calling attention to the success of President Obama’s energy initiatives without getting sidetracked into specious arguments. In this regard, it’s instructive to look at some comments by another guest on Soledad O’Brien’s show, U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz (R, Utah).
In contrast to Rogers, who really did talk about new changes in the U.S. energy landscape, Chaffetz said “we need a total new direction” but only offered up approval of yet another oil pipeline as an example.
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