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20 September 2019

Duke going 100% renewables, pull the other one

When we saw a headline this week suggesting that Duke Energy would move to zero carbon emissions we laughed out loud. Were there two Dukes after all?

It’s that age old joke, when lost in the countryside a man pulls his car over to ask a local for directions to the next town. The local man was sitting on a gate, smoking a pipe and seemed simple. He thought about it, nodded and began to speak. “Well If I was going there, I wouldn’t start from here….”

Duke Energy is married to natural gas, is a determined polluter, and has disingenuously poured poison into local lakes, and refused to clean up coal mine toxic waste. So when it says something like this, we acknowledge that this is not a great starting point.

The biggest issue will be its reluctance to take the financial hits of stranded assets that it owns. On the one hand it is a regulated electricity provider which can swap its sources of electricity at little notice, on the other, it has generation assets of its own which will fall in value if it genuinely embraces renewables.

It has embraced renewables before and then sold them off, and it has begun again and in July it announced its latest solar project, by simply acquiring the 200 MW Holstein project from 8minute Solar Energy in Nolan County, Texas, its third in that territory.

Duke said in a statement this week that it will be the largest power generator to announce a 100% carbon free goal and plans to double its renewable energy portfolio by 2030. Double diddly squat is zip. It claims further that by 2030 it will have 50% of its energy from renewables. This may well be the turning point for Duke, but we doubt it. Just a week ago it got caught up in a scandal where it claimed that solar caused more climate change because it required gas turbines to be switched on when the sun did not shine, and that gives off more Greenhouse Gases.

OK it may have been a sole PR man’s invention, but any culture that encourages people working for it to think that way, is not yet a convert to renewable energy. How will it reconcile this when it sues to force through its next gas turbine.

But then a day later we got the punchline to the Duke joke. If you want us to go 100% zero carbon by 2050 you have to let us extend our entire fleet of 11 nuclear reactor sites in North and South Carolina for another 20 years.

It will put in its first renewal application for the three-unit 2,500 MW Oconee station in Seneca, SC – its largest nuclear station – in 2021, followed by its other nuclear facilities.