By Dane Huffman
The head of Duke Energy defended the company’s performance on Thursday, saying it had been a “year of accomplishment for Duke Energy” at a dramatic shareholders meeting.
Lynn Good, the president and CEO of the company, also said she would take a canoe trip with river keepers to view the problems caused by coal ash spills. Good said Duke Energy is “committed to do the right thing,” according to Charlotte station WBTV.
About 200 protesters gathered outside at the event, and participants had to enter through metal detectors. Duke Energy’s handling of coal ash spills in North Carolina rivers has raised questions about how well it has handled the coal ash disposal and its commitment to protect the state’s environment.
Sixteen people spoke at the event before the company cut off questions, according to the Associated Press.
The company also decided to retain four directors – including one from Raleigh – who had been the target of some major investors.
Two of Duke Energy’s large shareholders said in an April 14 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that they wanted four of its directors voted out following the massive coal ash spill into the Dan River in February.
CalPERS and the New York City Pension Funds, are long-term shareowners in the company. In the filing, they ask other shareowners to vote against the re-election of G. Alex Bernhardt, Sr., James B. Hyler, Jr., James T. Rhodes, and Carlos A. Saladrigas at the company’s annual meeting on May 1.
Hyler, of Raleigh, is a former president of First Citizens and a former president of the United States Golf Association. He has been a director for the company since 2008.
In the filing, CalPERS and the NYC Pension Funds say that the four directors “failed to fulfill their obligations of risk oversight as members of a committee overseeing health, safety, and environmental compliance at the company.”
And on Wednesday, North Carolina Treasurer Janet Cowell said she would vote against a board member at Duke Energy. The state owns a little over 400,000 shares of Duke Energy stock, equating to close to $30 million .
Cowell, in an interview Thursday after the vote, said she was motivated by getting a good return on the state’s investment.
“Since the stock has underperformed, we would like to see Duke take some aggressive action solve this issue and again make money for themselves and the shareholders and that’s good for Duke and the state of North Carolina,” she said.
But Good said Thursday that the directors will not be stepping down, WBTV reported, the four were retained.
Thursday’s stance continued Duke Energy’s position in saying the company has aggressively, and appropriately, responded to problems. Duke has defended its response to the coal ash spills, and its directors, in a later filing with the SEC.
In filings with the SEC, Duke Energy called what happened “an accident” and said it has taken responsibility for the problem.
The incident has significant political implications, given that Gov. Pat McCrory spent most of his career as a Duke Energy employee.
Duke Energy stock traded at $74.59 a share on May 1, 2013, and was right at that number Thursday, with the stock trading at $74.53 Thursday afternoon at 1:15 p.m.
Investors also pushed for Duke Energy to disclose all of it’s political spending to its shareholders, but that was also voted down.
“People make up their own mind with their own money in terms of who they support,” said Duke Energy spokesman Tom Williams. “We give to groups who disagree with us and who agree with us and sometimes we’re there just to be a part of the dialogue so that process will continue,” he added.