Author:Mildenberg, David

At a conference on climate change in Chapel Hill in September, I confessed to a roomful of journalists and scientists that my science knowledge was probably the most limited in the room. That sentiment would probably still ring true if all of those reading this column had been in that room. But I'm smart enough to know that North Carolina is ground zero in efforts to confront global warming.

Our state has more than 12,000 miles of coastal shoreline if you include the enormous estuary system. Sounds and the beaches are part of the North Carolina ethos, drawing record levels of residents and visitors, even as concern mounts over shoreline erosion and worsening hurricanes.

On a more pragmatic level, we're the headquarters of Duke Energy Corp., the nation's largest electric utility based on revenue and second-biggest based on market value. (NextEra Energy Inc. is No. 1.) Duke keeps us cool in the summer and warm in the winter at nationally competitive prices in return for providing its shareholders an annual return of 8% over the last decade.

So Duke's mid-September announcement that it plans to achieve a net zero carbon emission profile by 2050, including a 50% reduction by 2030, was an important moment. To be sure, the power company isn't moving fast enough to satisfy many who are alarmed by global warming. The company says alternative energies, including solar and wind power, aren't efficient or reliable enough to make up more than 10% of its overall power mix over the next 15 years. Using the low-cost, high-return potential of lobbying, Duke is also working overtime to loosen state regulatory shackles in hopes of boosting its shareholder return.

Still, the commitment shows Duke's attention to significant changes in public...

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