Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Open letter to Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy

I've just emailed the following letter to Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, after reading on Ross Gelbspan's site The Heat is Online that Duke was supporting "Americans for Balanced Energy Choices", a pro-coal astroturf group. The ABEC website offers details of the fuel mix of each U.S. state's electricity supply. It paints an upbeat picture of how great it is having all that coal. If you prefer a more detached view of how coal is contributing to our carbon footprint, I prefer CARMA.

Dear Mr. Rogers,

I am disappointed to learn that your company, as a member of the United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), is in fact playing both sides of the fence by also supporting Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC)[1]. It's pretty obvious that ABEC is an "Astroturf™" organization, and that in the real world, ordinary Americans are not rising up to demand more coal power plants. ABEC has been advertising heavily, including sponsoring presidential debates – at which no questions at all on global warming were posed. ABEC has also come out against even far distant targets for greenhouse gas reductions. If we can't even set targets for 2050, what hope is there of our getting started in any way in this decade to make any first steps?

Either climate change is a serious issue, or it is not. Please don't try to have it both ways. Does your corporation actually, really, honestly support a nationwide effort to begin to reverse our very high carbon emissions, or are you just saying that to appease the public? Pardon me for questioning the sincerity of your company's joining USCAP, which was a major step; I know you have personally spoken strongly for the need to act on climate change, and that impressed me. But by also supporting ABEC, it strikes me you are really undermining any positive perception your USCAP membership might offer.

Selling carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a solution today is so far just a smoke screen; CCS is at least 15 years away. None of your plants is using it today, and none of the plants you are proposing to add will have CCS – will they even be designed for CCS retrofit? I just don't buy the proposition that new, non-CCS coal plants somehow represent a "bridge" to a lower carbon future. Surely they just widen the gulf we are going to have to span with such a bridge?

I appreciate that Duke Energy is currently heavily reliant on coal. The environmental dilemma that poses for your business' future is best addressed in the forum of USCAP, to advocate a workable transition to lower carbon with fair treatment of impacted industries, not by buying time with ABEC to go on building new, non-CCS coal plants which will incur high carbon emission penalties once either cap-and-trade or carbon taxes become a reality. You and I both know this is just a matter of time.

I urge you to withdraw your company's support and funding from ABEC, whether directly or indirectly, and to reaffirm publicly your company's support for binding limits on carbon emissions. If we establish a level playing field with national policies together with international agreements, this truly will not disadvantage American businesses or consumers. Indeed, failing to act and prolonging our unsustainable present course bears a far greater financial risk, as attested by the Stern Report.

I further urge you to make the promise of CCS meaningful by setting a deadline in the not distant future for your company to build no new coal plants without CCS, and a much closer deadline to ensure currently conceived projects must incorporate designs suitable for retrofitting CCS at minimum cost. Let's not go through another spectacle like "New Source Review" evasion on CCS installation when it becomes available.
As for my own electricity supplier here in Canada, although Ontario is committed to closing our last coal plants by 2014, I didn't want to wait that long and I've recently signed up with a small alternative electricity supplier Bullfrog Power, who supply 100% carbon-free renewable energy from wind, small-scale hydro, and biomass http://www.bullfrogpower.com. I'm paying an extra 3.5c per kWh for this, but with efficient appliances and CF bulbs throughout our small 2-storey detached house we consume less than 12 kWh/day and I can afford the extra $15/mo. (We heat with natural gas, so that's a different problem for my carbon footprint; I see there are promising alternatives in pelletized switchgrass as recounted at http://www.reap-canada.com/ )

Thank you for your consideration of my feedback.

[1] http://www.americaspower.org/Who-We-Are/ABEC-Supporters

Yours Truly,

Jim Prall
Toronto, Canada

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