Before they did that, however, the activists, led by the Sierra Club but consisting of over two dozen groups in all calling themselves the Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition, held a rally across the street in Williams Park.
“There’s a difference between energy and power,” said Kofi Hunt with Awake Pinellas. “The current that runs through the powerlines above us is energy. The light that shines in our houses with a flick of a switch is power. Us standing here in front of the largest energy provider in this country is energy. These 5,000 petitions are power!"
Hunt said the drive to get Duke to begin offering alternative forms of energy can't end with today's rally, though. “Let’s move Florida beyond coal," he exhorted the group.
When it was announced a few years ago that Duke would be merging with Progress Energy, some local environmentalists were excited about the possibilities for cleaner sources of energy being offered to Florida consumers, since the company was noted for pushing for alternative power in other states like North Carolina and Ohio.
But since taking over in Florida, they have not done much of that at all, and in their latest update to their 10-year plan
just submitted to the Florida Public Service Commission, the energy giant isn’t promising much of that in the future.
“It doesn’t move the ball on energy efficiency on solar energy. No new ideas here,” announced Frank Jackalone, senior organizing manager of the Sierra Club. Jackalone said he’s seen different numbers floated, but doesn't believe that Duke’s commitment to solar is anything more than one percent of their entire production in the Sunshine State.
And Jackalone said he wasn’t in the mood to hear that the company can’t afford to spend more of their resources on alternative energy, considering that Duke “took $3 billion of our money on a nuclear power plant that’s never going to be built,” as the crowd booed. That’s in reference to what it might cost to repair the failed nuclear power plant in Crystal River that the company inherited from Progress Energy.
He said the estimate was that the company has already made $250 million in profits off of nuclear cost recovery, the controversial program that allows them to charge ratepayers for the cost of nuclear power plants in advance of their construction.
“We appreciate input from our customers and take their concerns very seriously,” said Duke spokesman Sterling Ivey. “We are committed to meeting our customers’ energy needs 24/7 in an increasingly clean, reliable and affordable manner. Doing this requires a mix of energy resources, including natural gas, cleaner-burning coal, renewables and energy efficiency.”
“By shutting down the dirtiest power plants, like Crystal River, using energy more efficiently, and by generating more power from clean, renewable sources like the sun, we could be delivering a one-two punch in the fight against climate change, and ensuring the health and safety of our communities for years to come,” said Jennifer Rubiello, field associate with Environment Florida, based in Tallahassee.
Jackalone admitted that pressuring Duke can’t be the final answer, but instead attention must be focused on the Florida Public Service Commission, who could if they want dictate to all energy companies to begin incorporating more forms of alternative energy to their entire portfolio, something that is being done in over a dozen states.
Chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, dirty coal has got to go,” a group of around 100 protesters marched in front of Duke Energy headquarters in downtown St. Petersburg on Wednesday, dropping off over 5,500 petitions calling on the electric utility company that it’s time to stop relying exclusively on coal for most of their energy in Florida, and start providing cleaner alternative solutions.