Duke Energy’s Renewables Pledge Falls Short

Duke Energy’s Renewables Pledge Falls Short

WASHINGTON – The proposal announced today by Duke Energy, claiming the nation’s largest investor-owned electric utility aims to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, is far from a serious commitment to embracing renewable sources of electricity and combating the climate crisis, said Environmental Working Group and Citizen Action Coalition of Indiana.

“Sadly, we don’t see Duke’s overall approach fundamentally changing that much,” said EWG Senior Energy Policy Advisor Grant Smith. “Duke continues to cling to a high-cost, high-pollution strategy that relies heavily on fossil fuels and nuclear, instead of readily available low-cost opportunities that emphasize a portfolio of renewables, efficiency and energy storage. Duke will need to adopt a substantial cultural change if it is serious about effectively addressing both climate change and customer costs.”

“As I read Duke’s press release, I became increasingly skeptical that its business plan has changed much at all,” said Kerwin Olson, executive director of Citizen Action Coalition of Indiana, or CAC. “This announcement seems entirely inconsistent with the plans Duke recently filed with Indiana state regulators.

“Duke has displayed no commitment to transitioning their Indiana generation away from fossil fuels,” Olson said. “Duke Energy is all in with fossil fuels and carbon pollution, promising only token investments in clean energy. When you review what Duke has actually filed before state regulators and compare that with this announcement’s intended media splash, it feels like a whole lot of greenwashing.”

In Duke’s home state of North Carolina, the watchdog group NC Warn called the company’s announcement “a scandalous deception.”

“Duke Energy executives, by greatly expanding the use of fossil fuels and impeding the growth of renewable power in an age of harrowing climate crisis, are rapidly making global warming worse,” NC Warn said in a news release. “The new 15-year plan shows Duke plans to be only 9% renewable in the Carolinas by 2034, making the monopoly corporation a nationally-leading laggard even as many states and utilities are quickly shifting from natural gas to cheaper, renewable energy paired with battery storage.”

Although various trade groups and nonprofit organizations have supported Duke’s recent announcement that the company will achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, EWG, CAC and NC Warn remain skeptical for a number of reasons:

  • Duke continues to rely on continued operation of aging nuclear power plants and expanding natural gas generation and pipeline infrastructure to replace coal. Instead, Duke should focus on replacing coal with renewables, efficiency and storage technology, and cutting its natural gas plans substantially.
  • Duke refers to natural gas as low cost. But now renewables, efficiency, storage, and demand response are cost-competitive with new natural gas plants. Natural gas plants are now the largest contributor of carbon dioxide emissions in the electric sector, not to mention the significant methane emissions from gas infrastructure.
  • Duke says it will rely on technologies not yet developed, such as advanced nuclear and carbon capture. These are pipe dreams. The prospects for new nuclear are slim, and installing carbon capture technology to natural gas plants will result in increasing their cost and extending their lives.
  • Duke touts expansion of energy efficiency and energy storage. Duke has always undervalued energy efficiency and sought to undermine customer investments in efficiency by increasing the flat customer charge, as it recently argued in both North and South Carolina. It has also dragged its feet on energy storage. 
  • Duke has worked incessantly to derail policies that allow customers to own their own solar panels.
  • Duke says it will double its solar and wind generation. But where? Expanding wind in the Carolinas would threaten the company’s natural gas plant capacity in that area. Instead, Duke will likely continue to add low-cost wind and some solar to sell into the wholesale market while adding more expensive natural gas in its regulated territories.  

Earlier this year, EWG named Duke “Public Energy Enemy No. 1,” citing its puny investments in renewable energy, schemes to penalize customers who want to go solar, and record of heavy air and water pollution. We see no reason to temper that judgement because of the company’s announcement.

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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.