Duke Energy and Progress Energy are about unite their “wonder twin powers” to become the largest electric utility in the country. What form they will take remains to be seen, but there are lots of opinions. The companies expect to have the deal finalized by the end of the year, according to Forbes With 7 million customers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, coal provides more than half of their electricity generation including new coal-fired power plants currently being built in North Carolina and Indiana.
What does the merger mean for the future of the Southeast’s energy supply? According to Jim Rogers, who will become executive chairman of the new company and is currently the CEO of the current Duke Energy, the merger will increase the company’s ability to “deploy a ‘tsunami of capital’ to retire and replace old plants, upgrade the grid, meet stricter environmental regulations and improve energy efficiencies.”
Hopefully, this capital will be used to do things like stopping the use coal retrieved by blowing up mountains. Jim Rogers has admitted to feeling the heat on encouraging the ravaging of Appalachian mountains and communities.
“I’m under incredible pressure on mountaintop mining…I’m doing the math now and looking to determine my contracts and posing the question to my team, what if we made a policy decision that we’re not going to buy coal as a consequence of mountaintop mining. I actually can see a future where coal is not in the equation in 2050.”
The fact that Jim Rogers even said this aloud is testament to the wonderfully powerful movement to end mountaintop removal mining.
But we definitely were suspicious. Appalachian Voices’ staff scientist questioned Duke’s intention in June of last year to ask their suppliers to quote the price of coal mined without blasting Appalachian mountaintops in a Charlotte Observer article about the news.
“I definitely smell a rat,” said Matt Wasson, program director at Appalachian Voices in Boone. “I have very strong suspicions that this is not about a sincere effort to protect mountaintops from coal mining.”
While the coal mining industry depends on the myth that ending mountaintop removal coal will cost ratepayers bukoos of cash, the fact is that this is simply not true. Whether burning underground coal or mountaintop removal coal, the cost difference between the two is barely noticeable. In North Carolina, where almost all coal burned in the state comes from the Central Appalachia coal basin (where mountaintop removal is happening) the Energy Information Agency shows the Tarheel state paying only six cents more per billion BTUs (unit of energy) for surface mined than for underground mined coal, less than a 1% difference between the two. In 2008, North Carolina actually paid more for surface-mined coal than underground coal.
A Mountain Times article in November reported that Duke Energy claimed “the price difference between mountaintop removed coal and traditionally mined coal is what keeps them using the product.”
Possible Bright Spot: Energy Efficiency
The Southeast has been reluctant to move forward and aggressively on energy efficiency. While per capita electricity consumption in the Southeast is among the highest in the nation, per capita spending on energy efficiency in the Southeast is one-fifth the national average. The Renewable Energy Policy Project projects that electricity consumption in the South will trend upwards to 45 percent by 2020 if there is not improvements made in energy efficiency policy. From a recent New York Times piece on the merger
“It’s always been a tough sell in the Southeast to get them to look at California and New York [energy efficiency programs] and say, ‘You should follow suit.’ Those are seen [as] just shy of foreign countries,” said Callahan, who is originally from the Southeast.
Callahan says she sees a bigger platform for Rogers to influence energy efficiency issues across the nation.
“Clearly Duke Energy has emerged under Jim Rogers’ leadership as a moving force for energy efficiency not only in Southeast but really in the U.S.,” she said.
Many are also concerned about the expansion (and design) of Duke and Progress’ nuclear generation. Sue Sturgis has a good piece at Facing South which goes into detail on that part of the merger.
We will continue to be watchful as this merger develops.