Posted by: rcieri | September 11, 2008

Duke Energy president pushes energy efficiency, nuclear power

Ellen Ruff, president of Duke Energy, spoke about the company's sustainability efforts.

Ellen Ruff, president of Duke Energy, spoke about the company's sustainability efforts.

By Rachel Cieri
Sept. 11, 2008

ELON, N.C. – When it comes to making energy decisions, there is always a trade-off, according to President Ellen Ruff of Duke Energy Carolinas.

Ruff told her audience at Elon University’s McCary Theater Tuesday evening that the company has plans to clean up its carbon emissions, but Duke Energy is stuck using coal for 50 percent of its energy until cleaner resources become more reliable.

As a company serving 2.3 million residents, Duke Energy Carolinas strives to make its resources clean, reliable and cost-effective, but it has multiple considerations to balance. Ruff explained the company’s thinking in terms of an assignment for her audience, challenging them to weigh the options.

“This is a dialogue that needs to be stimulated at every level,” Ruff said.

While coal is a reliable, inexpensive and abundant resource, its carbon emissions make it a less-than-ideal solution for a company bent on promoting sustainability. Duke Energy has currently allotted $2 billion to “clean up” its coal plants, but the public has reacted negatively, saying that it should have been spent on research for renewable energy sources.

Duke, however, needs to use coal so that it can continue to serve its customers, and it plans to use the allotted funds to build a new coal unit, shut down four older units and purchase the most advanced emissions controls and technology.

“This is a clean story. This is about having cleaner coal,” said Ruff.

While many express concern about the dangers of nuclear waste, Ruff has complete confidence in it. She admits to former skepticism, but she is now convinced that nuclear energy is a great alternative.

“If carbon is your issue, the emissions from nuclear – there is no carbon,” she said.

Nuclear energy is both reliable and clean when its waste is handled properly, but new projects for nuclear plants are expensive and hard to get approved by legislators.

“We are a heavily regulated society. Is that a good thing? Probably, in lots of ways, but it makes us very slow. To get approval for the plants, you have to get in line,” Ruff said.

If Duke Energy was to start building a nuclear plant, it could be 2018 before the plant would be able to start running. The company is currently waiting for legislation allowing a storage of nuclear waste in the western part of the state.

In terms of renewable energy sources, Ruff believes that solar energy is the best option for the Carolinas. While the company already has 3,000 megawatts of hydro capacity, Ruff pointed out that it would not be sustainable because there is currently a water shortage. The Carolinas also do not have much potential for wind energy because state legislation does not allow turbines on mountains. Solar energy, though, can be utilized anywhere.

The problem with any form of renewable energy is the cost. Solar energy, for instance, is three times the cost of traditional electricity.

The company is currently pushing energy efficiency as its main sustainability effort, designating $50 million to the project. It will require a fundamental shift in the business model that rewards utility for saving power rather than selling it. With the help of an upcoming marketing program, Duke Energy plans to push customer cooperation.

Duke Energy has only just begun to come up with an answer to Ruff’s assignment.

“Answers will come from this room and rooms like this,” she said, referring to the students. “They’ll come from the next generation of scholars.”



  1. Rachel, this is extremely well done. You have a wonderful professional approach. It is important to have a photo of the speaker – good work. Your headline includes the keywords that help online readers find this – also a good thing. The pacing of the writing, the use of specific details and the direct-quoting are solid.

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