Duke Energy isn't happy with a recent report
that accuses the energy giant of spending $80 million of customers' money every year to influence local politicians, media outlets, and citizens.
The corporation sent a cease-and-desist letter to North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, or NC WARN, the nonprofit environmental group behind the report. The letter asserts that the report mischaracterized the company’s spending habits. Duke Energy doesn't refute the organization's numbers but says that the money used for public relations comes from shareholders, not customers.
“There are very clear laws in place that differentiate shareholder versus customer dollars and what can or cannot be charged to the customer,” says Meredith Archie, a spokeswoman for Duke Energy. “So these are allegations that we aren't just making up. We are following clear rules and laws when it comes to these sorts of things."
NC WARN isn't buying it. It says that Duke Energy's accusation amounts to an accounting fabrication.
"Our main point is there is one source of money, and that comes from power bills being paid," says NC WARN executive director Jim Warren. "[Money] gets paid to stockholders as dividends, but it is bogus to claim that that is stockholders or shareholders money.”
In Duke Energy's letter, the corporation warned that it would be forced to take further action if NC WARN refused to take down its post. The clean energy nonprofit isn't giving in.
"They wanted us to take down the key influence money diagram from our website, and we are declining to do that," Warren says.
This isn't the first time Duke Energy has clashed with NC WARN. In 2017, a judge ruled
in the energy company's favor after NC WARN acted as a "public utility" by installing solar panels at a church in Greensboro.
Duke Energy is frequently criticized for misleading advertisements that sometimes present the company as a proponent of green energy. For example, a story by WRAL reporter Travis Fain
, which drew on the NC WARN data, explains: “Company ads often linger on images of solar panels, though solar makes up just over 3 percent of the company's capacity in North Carolina, including what it generates itself and what it buys.”
Duke, of course, is a monopoly. Its ads and spending, critics say, are designed to justify rate increases and keep politicians in its corner.
Something that the corporate giant rarely tells customers: that it has already spent almost $60 million on settlements for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in 2018, according to WARN NC's data
. Or that, as energy costs for customers continue to climb, Duke Energy's CEO, Lynn Good, got a pay raise
to $21.4 million last year, a 55 percent increase from the year before.