By Bruce Henderson
Jim Rogers’ seven-year run atop Duke Energy ends this month in a rush of industry tributes, legacy look-backs and, like a retiring Super Bowl champion, a trip to Disney World.
Rogers, 66, is as remarkable for his longevity as for the 12 percent annual shareholder return he claims over his career or the three major mergers he engineered. The last one made Duke the nation’s biggest electric utility.
He was a chief executive in the energy industry for 25 years; the average CEO lasts 5.5 years. He leaves Duke as chairman of the board.
Harder to measure is Rogers’ extraordinary influence – in a role he sought – over the air we breathe and the temperature of the planet he’ll leave to his 11 grandchildren. Newsweek magazine named him one of the 50 most powerful people in the world in 2009.
Electric utilities, by their scale and reliance on fossil fuels, are among the country’s largest polluters.
Coal-fired power plants like Duke’s release chemicals that are major components of the ozone that chokes asthmatic children. Sulfur compounds from coal blanket the Smokies in a fog of haze. Mercury poisons blackwater rivers on North Carolina’s coast.
Even as technology makes power plants cleaner, they billow billions of tons a year of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas linked to climate change.
Duke was the nation’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter in 2011, behind Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power, according to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Rogers, perhaps more than any major utility leader, stands at the crossroads of energy and environment. The self-described “maverick” has been an early adopter of green measures for his industry, often while finding a way to make money from them. He also bred environmental skeptics along the way.