Duke Energy is the largest electric power holding company in the U.S., providing electricity to nearly 8-million retail customers, and natural gas to roughly 1.5 million more. During the last three months of 2019, it raked in profits of $660 million. That's a 42 percent gain from a year ago.
One reason behind the sudden surge in profits is population growth and increased demand for electricity. Duke Energy spokesperson Jeff Brooks says along with that growth comes changes to the way power is being delivered to customers.
“As a utility, we're mandated to meet our customers' needs,” says Brooks. “And if that means building new power lines, or if that means installing smarter electric meters or self-healing technology, then that's what we're going to do. And in return for that, our utilities commission, which is the regulatory body that regulates our company, allows us to make a reasonable return on that investment.”
Another recent boost to Duke's bottom line has been years of those investments finally coming online in the form of renewables, grid upgrades, and electric and gas plants like the Belews Creek Steam Station project in Stokes County. Jeff Brooks says the 40-year-old traditional coal facility will soon see big changes.
“We're actually converting that plant to allow it to be co-fired with natural gas,” says Brooks. “That means that we can use natural gas when it's a more cost-effective option. Also, for every pound of coal we displace by using gas, we're reducing sulfur dioxide by as much as 99 percent and we can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 40 percent.”
Brooks says one of the new units will be online later this quarter, and Belews Creek should be fully operational by early next year. The company expects profits to continue growing at about 4 to 6 percent a year through 2024.