With friends like this….

Stephen Smith | April 29, 2009 | Climate Change, Coal, Energy Policy
Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers on

Last Sunday, “60 Minutes”  on CBS aired an interview with Duke Energy’s CEO, Jim Rogers.  I watched the segment again last night, and I wanted to take a minute to reflect on what I heard.  All I can say is it is very sad.

I first met Rogers in the North Carolina Utility Commission hearing room several years ago.  He was there pushing hard for two new 800 MW coal plants at Duke’s Cliffside power station outside Charlotte, NC.  During a break, I challenged him about a comment he made regarding coal and carbon, but he got very defensive.  Moments after I approached him, he said, “We are done, mister,” and he threatened to walk away.  I backed off because it wasn’t my intention to offend him or cause a stir, but it was clear that this guy was high strung and not used to people questioning his experience and positions.

I had heard that he was a “good guy,” and I did not want to get off to a bad start with him.

Over the course of the Cliffside hearings before the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC), however, it became clear to me that Rogers is a great danger to those of us concerned with making responsible energy choices that protect our environment.  He talked a good line, and knew all of the clean energy buzz words and phrases.  He came across as long on confidence but short on authenticity.  He never gave an inch.  Rogers’ desire to build a new coal plant seemed all about money, shareholders and putting the power company first, but he wrapped it in a slick green package with a pretty bow and a card that reads, “I’m green just like you, trust me.”  You can read the whole transcript (download volume 6 and begin at page 125, January 24, 2007).

Working with several other organizations, SACE was able to convince the NCUC to deny one of Rogers’ two 800 megawatt plants.  This was the first real case before the NCUC that focused on the risk associated with carbon emission.  Rogers promised the Commissioners that “CO2 scrubbers” where on the way, spoke of “grandfathering” emissions, dismissed renewables and stated that only “iron in the ground” could meet growing energy demand.  SACE has continued to challenge Mr. Rogers on his misinformation about renewable energy in our region and how to deal with climate change.

So, you can imagine that I watched in disbelief on Sunday.  It was a clear clash of paradigms. Dr. Jim Hansen clearly stated the scientific concern about uncontrolled carbon emissions and the need to stop major emissions from coal plants quickly, in less than 20 years.  Dr. Hansen’s view provided an important criticism of Mr. Rogers, who maintains that economics trump science, that we can take our time and that preserving Duke’s bottom line is more important than the scientific necessity to reduce our carbon emissions as soon as possible.

This is why Rogers is a dangerous spokesman.  He says he wants a carbon cap, he says we need to address global warming but he also says we need to take our time.  He wants a cap, but he wants the price on carbon to be so low that it will not have any real impact on market behavior.  Clearly this is the case as he is actively building a coal plant with no carbon controls while the nation debates a cap and trade program to limit our nation’s global warming pollution.  He is betting his customer’s future (and wallets) that a price on carbon will have little impact on his company.
His intent is clearly to “socialize risk and privatize profits.”

When Scott Pelley of “60 Minutes” asked about Duke’s investments in carbon capture, Rogers responded:

“We have not invested any dollars in the technology, per say. We have spent a lot of time and money reviewing and analyzing the various technologies.”

Pelley pressed Rogers further:

“But come on, you admit to being the third largest carbon producer in the United States. You tell me that carbon sequestration is the future, because we can’t afford to live without coal. But then you tell me you haven’t invested any money in carbon sequestration.”

Rogers replied:

“While we haven’t spent the money on sequestration technology we spent the time and the energy and we’re going to co-invest with the government when this technology evolves.”

Then came the real kicker as the segment turned to the future of the planet:

“So when Jim Hansen says that to save the planet, we should stop building coal-fired power plants today you say what?” Pelley asked Rogers.

“I say, ‘Mr. Hansen, can’t get done, won’t get done,'” Rogers replied. “We’ve got to keep our economy going. We’ve got to make the transition. And I’m gonna do everything I can with the greatest sense of urgency to make the transition. But to do what you ask me to do now is just not doable.”

In our view, the only thing Mr. Rogers is doing with any “sense of urgency” is rushing to build another dirty coal plant that will contribute to climate change instead of helping to solve it.  Mr. Rogers makes it seem as though we must sacrifice our economy in order to protect the environment, but what he misses is that wrecking the environment will not protect our economy.  I don’t want to bet my children’s future on Mr. Rogers’ world view.

With environmental friends like this, who needs enemies?

Here is what others have said about the interview:

Stephen Smith
Dr. Stephen A. Smith has over 35 years of experience affecting positive change for the environment. Since 1993, Dr. Smith has led the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) as…
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