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The Wizard of Green: Jim Rogers' and Duke Energy's nuke-heavy agenda 

If last week's N.C. Utilities Commission hearing proved anything, it's that Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers really needs to stop with the green energy shtick.

Since becoming Duke's CEO five years ago, Rogers has gone around the country, building an image of himself as America's "green energy executive," and hyping Duke as a green-friendly utility. A lot of people believed it, too, including many environmentalists who now are slapping their foreheads and letting out a Homer Simpson-ish "Doh!"

Rogers and other Duke execs testified before the Utilities Commission last week, asking regulators to let Duke spend nearly $300 million on preliminary costs for a planned nuclear plant in South Carolina. The big hitch in that plan is Duke's other request: The company wants the OK from the General Assembly to raise customer rates now in order to pay for future nuclear plants — rather than have the company's shareholders take the risk. Duke says if it doesn't get the go-ahead to raise customers' bills, it won't build more nuclear plants. Some of the commissioners last week thought it was an odd idea to let Duke spend money on a project that's dependent on a state law that has yet to be introduced (and may not pass, in view of the nuclear disasters in Japan).

Rogers & Co., however, doubled down and made it clear how completely committed to non-renewable energy Duke really is in North Carolina. A company vice president testified that Duke plans to build more than 7,000 megawatts in new nuclear, coal and gas generation by 2030, but it only plans 56 megawatts of solar and practically no new wind power. Rogers went so far as to say — twice — that "North Carolina doesn't have any wind [energy potential]," while touting the company's $1.7 billion investments in wind power, primarily out West.

Rogers' claim is astonishing and cynical. Until last August, Duke had plans for a small, three-turbine demonstration project in Pamlico Sound. The company canceled the project due to "high costs" of $145 million, which included decommissioning costs. As we pointed out then, Duke could have tapped more than $1 billion in funds it has put aside for future decommissioning of nuclear plants; but that would have taken a genuine commitment to wind power in the state, not just lip service.

In addition, two recent, prominently publicized national studies showed that North Carolina leads the East Coast in wind power capacity. One of the studies, conducted by Oceana — a respected environmental group focused on oceanic issues, revealed that offshore wind power in Atlantic waters could provide about half the electricity needed for the entire East Coast. If that wasn't enough reason to get cracking, the Oceana study also said that North Carolina, Massachusetts and Delaware could generate all the power they need through offshore wind power alone. Such a massive effort would also create up to 200,000 jobs, based on experience in Europe, where the offshore wind industry is far ahead of ours.

Also, last month, the Obama administration announced a plan to help accelerate the development of offshore wind energy, particularly in the mid-Atlantic states such as (are you listening, Jim?) North Carolina.

How can Rogers get away with so blithely dismissing the state's wind power potential? One reason, frankly, is Americans' well-documented ignorance of what happens in the rest of the world. Most of us aren't aware that wind power isn't a pie-in-the-sky idea, but is actually being used now to power increasingly large parts of Europe. Last September, for instance, Great Britain cranked up the Thanet Offshore Wind Project, the world's largest offshore wind farm which, when added to the UK's previous wind power capacity, could power all the homes in Scotland. The Thanet project cost $1.4 billion, and was financed by an energy fund, which funnels money collected from polluting industries to renewable energy resources. There's no reason we couldn't do the same thing here — except that oil and coal lobbyists would have a fit and kill the idea before it got out of a congressional committee.

But I digress (a little). The point was Jim Rogers' — and his company's — misleading "green" image. Just how misleading became clearer last week during the Utilities Commission hearings, when Rogers' green curtain was publicly swished aside, revealing Duke Energy's Wizard of Green as your basic, ordinary energy honcho, hitting up regulators for special favors for nukes.

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