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Environment, tea party protests target Duke Energy

The Associated Press

Environmental groups and tea party activists protested Thursday outside Duke Energy Corp.'s annual shareholder meeting in Charlotte, with one side opposed to coal and nuclear power plants and the other upset that Duke's CEO helped bring the 2012 Democratic National Convention to town.

About 50 green activists said they were upset that the utility giant is continuing to build coal-fired plants and moving ahead with new nuclear plans.

Monica Embrey, Greenpeace organizer in Charlotte, said shareholders should step in and say no to the risky projects. The groups say the projects threaten public health and have put shareholders at risk.

Grant Smith, executive director of the Citizens Action Coalition, said the coal-fired plants are "exposing people to harmful emissions."

"This is no longer the 1950s. This is 2011," said Smith, adding that new technologies exist that are more environmentally friendly. They include solar and wind power.

Many of the protesters carried signs criticizing Duke, calling for the company to produce "Clean Safe Energy Now."

"We need to move away from coal," said Kim Jackson, an activist. "Yet they continue to embrace it. And nuclear isn't much better. Look what happened in Japan. Does nuclear look safe to you?"

A powerful March 11 earthquake set off a massive tsunami that seriously damaged nuclear power plants in Japan.

The meeting also attracted about 50 tea party members, who say Duke chief executive officer Jim Rogers was wrong to give $10 million to help bring the Democratic National Convention to Charlotte.

Duke, one of Charlotte's biggest companies, is guaranteeing a $10 million line of credit for the party's presidential nominating meeting, and Rogers has been leading fundraising efforts for the convention. The company has long been a major arts and education backer in the community.

Jane Bilelle of the Asheville, N.C., Tea Party said Rogers should be ashamed of himself for giving "shareholders' money to the Democratic Party."

"That's theft of shareholder's money," she said.

Duke spokesman Tom Williams said the utility has long supported economic development in the Charlotte region. He also called the protest outside the company's headquarters "free speech at work."

He said the new coal-fired plans will reduce pollution, and the company has explored green energy options.

Duke also was moving forward with plans to build a new nuclear plant in Gaffney, S.C., he said.

The company announced plans in January to buy Raleigh-based Progress Energy in a $13.7 billion deal that would create the country's largest utility if regulators approve.

Duke serves 4 million electric customers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.