Saturday, May 07, 2011

We took a stand against Duke Energy's nukes and coal

A demonstrator outside Duke Energy. Photo: Sally Kneidel

Dozens of protesters demonstrated outside Duke Energy headquarters in Charlotte on Thursday (5/5/11), prior to a meeting of shareholders.  The demonstration included speakers, picketers with signs, and street theater - the actors portrayed utility customers whose money winds up in the hands of legislators.  The demonstrators protested the use of coal from mountaintop removal and the construction of two new nuclear units in Cherokee County, S.C.

The most eloquent speaker I heard was Mickey McCoy (above), a Kentucky native who grew up in a town devastated by mountaintop removal. Jim Rogers said Duke tries to avoid buying coal extracted by mountaintop removal, but only when they can find other coal sources that are equally cheap (unlikely since mountaintop removal is the cheapest method). Photo: Sally Kneidel

A banner held by protesters outside Duke Energy on Thursday. Photo: Sally Kneidel

At the shareholders meeting indoors, 20-30 people lined up microphones in the aisles of the auditorium to pose questions to Duke Energy CEO and President, Jim Rogers. I was one of those people - my purpose was to point out to Rogers and the shareholders the risk involved in building new nuclear units in South Carolina, on a river whose flow is inadequate to provide consistent cooling of the units.

My comments to CEO Jim Rogers at the meeting:
"I'm concerned about the consumption of water by the proposed nuclear units on the Broad River. Duke Energy and its shareholders face serious financial and public relations risks from Duke’s use of so much water.

"Already, NC’s electric-production sector has one of the largest rates of water withdrawals in the nation, over 9 billion gallons every day – about 80% of our state’s total water withdrawals.

"I understand that some of the water withdrawn by nuclear power plants is returned to the lakes it’s drawn from. But much of the water withdrawn to cool the reactors is 'consumed' or lost by evaporation. The proposed units on the Broad River will have a consumptive loss of 35-40 million gallons per day.

"Right now, most people are unaware of how nuclear plants impact our state's water - including loss of aquatic habitat, releases of radioactivity, and the huge evaporative losses. As you [Jim Rogers] said yourself, 'water is the new oil' – because of growing water shortages due to population growth and climate change.

"Soon the people of NC will find these losses of water and habitat unacceptable. Duke will be taking a huge risk to squander even more water at new nuclear plants. Likewise, with 70% of biologists predicting mass extinctions this century, the loss of aquatic wildlife due to dams and thermal pollution will become increasingly objectionable to the public.

"The increasing water shortage also creates a high financial risk for Duke. Because of coming droughts and periods when water is too warm to cool the plants,the proposed plants are likely to be idle at times or operate at reduced power - a public annoyance and a loss of revenue.  As the Broad River diminishes over the years, the useful lifespan of the $11 billion units is also likely to be cut short. So the ratepayers [not the shareholders] will wind up paying for nonfunctional nuclear plants.

"Do you, Mr. Rogers, believe the Broad River will have enough water to support these plants?

"In other states Duke is investing more aggressively in energy efficiency, wind, and solar, which require no water. Why doesn’t Duke invest more in efficiency, wind, and solar here in its home state, thereby minimizing the risks to Duke and to all North Carolinians of our dwindling water supplies?"

Rogers' response
Jim Rogers answered my question about the Broad River by saying "That's a good question." He went on to say that Duke is studying the issue and they plan to create a reservoir (by damming the Broad River). Which was no answer, really. Every nuclear plant has a reservoir of some kind. The question about solar, wind, and efficiency was posed by several people. He said wind turbines take up too much room. The real answer to the efficiency question is that Duke makes more money when customers consume more energy, because then they pay more money to Duke. Duke had strong 2010 earnings, and this past week had first-quarter growth that moved its stock to the highest price in 3 years.

Street theater outside Duke Energy.  Seated "rate payers" hand over money to the "legislator" dressed in black. Photo: Sally Kneidel

Keywords: Duke Energy nuclear coal mountaintop removal water shortage demonstration Mickey McCoy Jim Rogers

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