CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Duke Energy's chief executive officer Lynn Good on Thursday touted steps the company has taken over the last year to address serious problems at coal ash pits polluting the state's waterways.
She told shareholders that Duke has learned a lot from last year's coal ash spill at the company's Eden, North Carolina, plant that coated nearly 70 miles of the Dan River in toxic sludge. The nation's largest electricity company, Duke stores more than 150 million tons of coal ash in 32 dumps at 14 power plants in North Carolina.
"We now have a centralized team of employees who are dedicated solely to the safe management of ash every day. And we have a dedicated team focused on closing those basins as rapidly as they can," Good said at Duke's annual shareholders' meeting, which was held in an auditorium across the street from the company's headquarters.
She added that Charlotte-based Duke takes its "environmental stewardship ... very seriously."
But while Good tried to look forward, she was haunted by the company's past.
She was interrupted by demonstrators who say the $50 billion company is blocking people and businesses from putting solar panels on their roofs. Shouting "stop blocking rooftop solar" the nearly dozen protesters were escorted out of the auditorium. Duke has been opposed to a North Carolina bill that would allow residents to buy solar and other clean energy directly from renewable energy companies.
It didn't get much better when Good started fielding questions from the audience.
Some were critical of Duke's record on the environment, including several who were angry that the company was planning to move some coal ash to open clay mines in two rural counties.
And in her comments to shareholders, Good didn't mention that federal prosecutors in February charged Duke with nine criminal counts over years of illegal pollution leaking from ash dumps at five of the plants. The company has said it intends to plead guilty to the charges next week as part of an agreement requiring it to pay $102 million in fines and restitution.
She also didn't bring up that North Carolina officials are warning some residents living near Duke's coal ash pits that it's not safe to drink or cook with their well water after tests showed contamination levels that is raising health concerns.
Good did acknowledge to shareholders that 2014 was a "year of great challenge." She defended the company's actions and Duke's commitment to providing reliable clean energy to customers. She also said Duke in the last year has invested $500 million in solar energy in the Carolinas.
The most heated exchange came with a woman who lives next door to a proposed coal ash disposal site.
A state law passed in the wake of the Dan River spill requires the company to move or cap all of its dumps by 2029. One of those sites abuts a farm owned by Dawn Crawley of Sanford.
She said about 2,000 people live within a half a mile of the proposed site and that everyone in the community is worried.
"Do you all not care about our children and generations to come?" she said. "You all have no (courage) to clean up what you are doing."
Good interrupted, saying, "I appreciate your passion."
Crawley then snapped, "You appreciate my passion? It's not passion. It's my life ... This is a residential area. We're not going to accept it. You just stirred up a hornet's nest."
Follow Weiss at http://Twitter.com/mitchsweiss