By Bruce Henderson
Duke Energy stockholders waded through a raucous carnival of protesters Thursday for an annual meeting that produced no major changes after three months of coal ash intrigue.
Shareholders re-elected all 15 company directors, including those whom institutional investors had targeted for removal after a disastrous Feb. 2 ash spill into the Dan River.
A shareholder proposal for Duke to fully disclose its political contributions failed, according to preliminary results.
Speeches and street theater denouncing Duke and coal ash came from about 100 protesters who rallied outside the meeting in uptown Charlotte.
“I personally feel that Duke Energy has willfully turned a blind eye to the hazards of things like the coal ash ponds at Riverbend (power plant) to our drinking water in Charlotte,” Steve Rundle, a small-business owner, said as he drummed a plastic water jug. “If we have an incident like Dan River, we would turn on our taps and coal ash would come out.”
Security was tight outside and inside the meeting. Reporters were assigned public relations escorts. Officials removed one man at the outset of the meeting when he interrupted to raise an issue related to the directors.
CEO Lynn Good, presiding over the meeting for the first time, took questions from 16 shareholders or proxy holders. Most probed the ash spill, Duke’s contributions to climate change and its investments in renewable energy.
Deborah Ferruccio, who lives in Warren County, peppered Good with demands that Duke clean up the Dan River faster.
“I don’t appreciate a lifetime of having to worry about what’s in my water,” she said.
Good repeated Duke’s talking points on the ash spill: Duke responded quickly, apologized and took responsibility; it’s working with state and federal agencies that are directing the cleanup; the company is developing a long-term plan for its ash management due by the end of 2014.
“We will be there until it’s resolved,” Good said.
Shareholder Fred Counsell, who regularly travels from New York to the annual meetings, is withholding judgment on Duke’s handling of the ash crisis. “I’ve seen pictures, and it doesn’t look pretty,” he said in an interview.
But Counsell said Duke still has the opportunity for a Bill Lee moment. The late, legendary Duke Power CEO became a leader in restoring confidence in the nuclear industry after a partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island power plant in 1979.
“Mr. Lee stepped up,” he said. “I believe that, quietly and thoroughly, Duke can take the lead and remediate this.”
Read the entire article here.