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Edited Transcript of DUK earnings conference call or presentation 8-Nov-19 3:00pm GMT

Q3 2019 Duke Energy Corp Earnings Call

CHARLOTTE Nov 13, 2019 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Duke Energy Corp earnings conference call or presentation Friday, November 8, 2019 at 3:00:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Bryan Buckler;Vice President of Investor Relations

* Lynn J. Good

Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO

* Steven Keith Young

Duke Energy Corporation - Executive VP & CFO

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Conference Call Participants

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* Christopher James Turnure

JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Analyst

* Gregory Harmon Gordon

Evercore ISI Institutional Equities, Research Division - Senior MD and Head of Power & Utilities Research

* Julien Patrick Dumoulin-Smith

BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Director and Head of the US Power, Utilities & Alternative Energy Equity Research

* Michael Jay Lapides

Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - VP

* Michael Weinstein

Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division - United States Utilities Analyst

* Praful Mehta

Citigroup Inc, Research Division - Director

* Shahriar Pourreza

Guggenheim Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD and Head of North American Power

* Steven Isaac Fleishman

Wolfe Research, LLC - MD & Senior Utilities Analyst

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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Good day and welcome to the Duke Energy Third Quarter Earnings Call. Today's conference is being recorded.

At this time, I'd like to turn the conference over to Mr. Bryan Buckler, Vice President of Investor Relations. Please go ahead, sir.

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Bryan Buckler;Vice President of Investor Relations, [2]

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Thank you, Derek. Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining Duke Energy's Third Quarter 2019 Earnings Review and Business Update.

Leading our call today is Lynn Good, Chairman, President and CEO; along with Steve Young, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer.

Today's discussion will include forward-looking information and the use of non-GAAP financial measures. Slide 2 presents the safe harbor statement, which accompanies our presentation materials. A reconciliation of non-GAAP financial measures can be found on dukeenergy.com and in today's materials. Please note the appendix for today's presentation includes supplemental information and additional disclosures.

As summarized on Slide 3, during today's call, Lynn will provide an update on the quarter and progress on our strategic initiatives. Steve will then provide an overview of third quarter financial results and insight about economic and load growth trends. He will also provide an update on our regulatory and financing activities this year before closing with key investor considerations.

With that, let me turn the call over to Lynn.

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [3]

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Bryan, thank you, and good morning, everyone. Today, we announced strong results for the quarter, with adjusted earnings per share of $1.79 compared to $1.65 in the prior year. This represents 7% growth through the first 3 quarters, giving us confidence that we will look to the rest of the year. We have narrowed our 2019 EPS guidance range to $4.95 to $5.15, raising the midpoint into the upper half of our original range. We also reaffirmed our long-term earnings growth rate of 4% to 6% through 2023 [off] the midpoint of our original 2019 guidance range.

2019 has proven to be a solid year of growth for Duke Energy as we transform the customer experience and deliver value for our shareholders. We continue executing our strategy, making significant investments in the energy grid, cleaner generation and natural gas infrastructure, and the fundamentals of our business remain strong.

Let me highlight several operational accomplishments in the quarter on Slide 4. First, in early September, Hurricane Dorian, a historic Category 5 storm with an unpredictable path, devastated the Bahamas before sweeping across the East Coast. Our thoughts remain with the people of the Bahamas as they continue the long journey to rebuild their communities. In the days leading up to Dorian's potential landfall, our weather forecasts and models projected significant outages to our Florida and Carolinas service territories. In response, we mobilized nearly 8,000 resources in Florida and over 10,000 resources in the Carolinas as we braced for the storm.

While Dorian's track shifted, it caused nearly 300,000 outages in our service territories. Our team's preparation, commitment to our customers and focus on operational excellence enabled us to restore more than 95% of the outages within 24 hours. Also, our systems' employees performed well in the face of some of the hottest days on record in September and early October. Despite these temperatures, our fleet performed well and served customers with the energy they demand.

In the quarter, Duke Energy was named one of the top sustainable companies in North America by Dow Jones for the 14th consecutive year. This is a testament to our climate strategy, sustainable practices and ongoing investments in cleaner generation. In addition, Duke Energy received a U.S. Transparency Award, which recognizes the quality and transparency of information that U.S. companies make available to investors. Duke Energy was awarded best corporate disclosure for the utility industry. I'm proud of our employees and our operational execution during the quarter from storm preparation to industry recognitions. We continue to demonstrate the strength of our business and excel in our operations, which is fundamental to achieving our long-term strategy.

Turning to Slide 5. In September, we announced a more aggressive, comprehensive strategy to reduce carbon emissions. By 2030, we will cut carbon emissions by at least 50% from 2005 levels and aspire to attain net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Our commitment for 2030 includes plant retirements; operating our existing carbon-free resources; and investing in natural gas infrastructure, renewables and our energy delivery system.

Our recent rate case filings in Indiana and the Carolinas are consistent with this accelerated approach. As we look beyond 2030, we will need additional tools to continue our progress. We will work actively to advocate for research and development of carbon-free dispatchable resources that includes longer-term energy storage, advanced nuclear technologies, carbon capture and 0 carbon fuels. We will also pursue second license renewal for all of our nuclear assets to maintain this low-cost, carbon-free source of generation.

The journey and time line for achieving our targets will be different in each state, and we're committed to working with our regulators and other stakeholders to design the right path for our customers and communities. Making our energy system cleaner and more sustainable means we must transform the way we operate, and we're facing that challenge head-on. We've made great progress, and our acceleration in this area will position the company to provide customers with a cleaner, smarter energy future.

The investments shown on Slide 6 are also consistent with our climate strategy. Our Asheville combined cycle plant is on track to be completed by the end of the year. This plant is part of our $1.1 billion Western Carolinas Modernization Project that supports this growing region. Also in North Carolina, the second renewable energy RFP under House Bill 589, launched in mid-October. The RFP seeks another 680 megawatts of smaller projects, which would bring the total renewables procured under the program to almost 1,200 megawatts. We look forward to participating in this next phase of the process.

As a reminder, in Florida, we will be installing 700 megawatts of solar by 2022 as part of our multiyear settlement agreement. To date, the commission has approved the recovery of 344 megawatts under the solar base rate adjustment mechanism.

Focusing on our Commercial Renewables business, we had another impressive quarter. So far this year, we've announced over 1,500 megawatts of new wind and solar projects, including nearly 400 megawatts announced in the third quarter. Given our pipeline of investments, we have line of sight to nearly all of our growth prospects for 2019 and 2020, and 70% over the 5-year plan.

Shifting to our gas business on Slide 7, let me update you on the status of the Atlantic Coast pipeline. In early October, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted our petition to review the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Appalachian Trail crossing decision. This is a very encouraging sign and provides a path forward to resolve this important issue. We expect the Supreme Court will schedule arguments for early next year with a final decision no later than mid-2020. As a reminder, the Solicitor General has joined our appeal, and we are supported by a broad coalition of stakeholders, including 16 state attorneys general. We believe the law and facts are on our side and look forward to moving toward a final resolution.

We also continue to work with project partners in the Fish and Wildlife Service on the Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement to resolve the issues identified by the Fourth Circuit. Based on early discussions, we now expect the permits to be issued in the first half of 2020. While this is later than previously anticipated, all parties are keenly focused on delivering reissued permits that are robust enough to minimize the potential for further appeals. This timing also aligns more closely with the expected Supreme Court decision, providing more clarity before we pursue full construction activities.

Given this time line for the resolution of the Appalachian Trail crossing and the Biological Opinion, we are no longer pursuing a phased approach, but are now planning for mechanical completion of the project in late 2021 with full in-service in the first half of 2022.

On the customer front, the ACP project partners have advanced discussions on the project status and costs, and we expect to reach an agreement in principle by the end of this year, balancing price and project returns. We believe this pipeline remains the best option to meet our customers' needs.

We remain committed to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the significant benefits it will bring to our customers and our regions. It will provide much-needed natural gas to an underserved area of the Southeast and will allow us to retire coal units and replace them with cleaner-burning natural gas-fired plants to help meet our carbon reduction targets. In addition, it supports critical resiliency needs for some of the country's most important military outposts.

At the same time, as we execute on our $37 billion growth capital plan that underlies our 4% to 6% earnings growth rate, we have consistently stated our commitment to a strong balance sheet. Given ACP progress and clarity on important milestones, which includes a delay in project revenues until early to mid-2022, we are increasing the amount of equity in our plan. We plan to monitor market conditions and issue approximately $2.5 billion opportunistically by the end of 2020. This additional equity allows us to absorb a wide range of outcomes associated with ACP while also offering greater financial flexibility to the company.

For instance, after ACP comes online, we will have the ability to moderate our current assumptions of $500 million per year in DRIP and ATM issuances. Additionally, we see emerging infrastructure needs for our expansive energy delivery system, which may require incremental investments and which would drive additional growth beyond our existing $37 billion growth capital plan. We believe this issuance keeps us moving forward as we deliver value to our customers and results for our shareholders. We remain confident in our ability to achieve 4% to 6% earnings growth through 2023, given our healthy franchises and strong investment growth profile. Steve will discuss more details about our growth drivers in a moment.

Circling back to ACP, I'm pleased with the progress we've made to advance this important infrastructure project. While this is a lengthy process, we're committed to the project and its completion, and we will continue to share details as we learn more.

Moving to Slide 8. Let me share a few updates about recent legislative developments. Earlier this week, Senate Bill 559 was enacted into law in North Carolina, enabling the Utilities Commission to approve storm cost securitization. This important mechanism will save customers 15% to 20% on storm costs and support our balance sheet. We are pleased with the General Assembly's unanimous vote on securitization and also the bipartisan support for other cost recovery mechanisms that we advocated for, such as multiyear rate plans and ROE bands. While the final bill does not include these other provisions, Governor Cooper's clean energy plan speaks to the potential for modernized recovery mechanisms for the state. We are encouraged that these important reforms are part of the broader energy policy dialogue, and we will actively participate in a 2020 stakeholder engagement process related to the clean energy plan.

Changes to the regulatory construct are a vital part of achieving North Carolina's energy objectives in the long term. We are focused on advancing modern mechanisms and the customer benefits they provide. In the near term, our attention will be on the execution of frequent rate cases and pursuing solutions to reduce regulatory lag. Both are important to delivering customer benefits and meeting our earnings objectives.

We have operated in North Carolina for more than a century, providing our customers with safe and reliable power. The state is thriving with a strong economy and increasing demand for new energy infrastructure. As we look ahead, we share many of the state's objectives and will partner with stakeholders to develop innovative solutions and thoughtful energy policy. Energy policy discussions are also advancing in many of our other states and stakeholders are embracing the value of improving the grid.

In Ohio, House Bill 247 is progressing through the legislature. This bill would further grid modernization, distributed generation and other investments that benefit customers.

And in Florida, recently enacted legislation promotes grid hardening investment. That will improve the resiliency of the grid against extreme weather events while establishing rider recovery for the investments. The Florida Public Service Commission is finalizing rule-making, and we expect to file our storm protection plans in 2020.

With over 300,000 line miles across our utilities, our transmission and distribution network is the largest in the nation and the demands in our energy delivery systems have never been greater. This requires significant capital investment to ensure our communities keep pace with the energy transformation occurring across the nation. We are excited to work with stakeholders across all of our electric and gas service territories to ensure the pace and scale of our investments align with customer needs.

Before turning it over to Steve, I want to reiterate our strong confidence in our long-term strategy and our continued ability to deliver on our commitments. We're taking necessary steps to maintain the strength of our balance sheet, advocating for solutions across our jurisdictions and making progress as we advance our investment priorities to benefit our customers and shareholders. As we move into the fourth quarter, we look forward to closing out a very strong year.

With that, I'll turn it over to Steve.

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Steven Keith Young, Duke Energy Corporation - Executive VP & CFO [4]

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Thanks, Lynn, and good morning, everyone. I'll start with quarterly results on Slide 9, including our adjusted earnings per share variances to the prior year. For detailed information on variance drivers and a reconciliation of reported to adjusted results, please refer to the supporting materials that accompany today's press release and presentation.

On a reported basis, 2019 third quarter earnings per share were $1.82 compared to $1.51 last year. Third quarter 2019 adjusted earnings per share were $1.79 compared to $1.65 last year. The difference between 2019 reported and adjusted earnings was due to a reduction of an impairment charge originally recorded in 2018. This benefit has been reflected as a special item and excluded from adjusted earnings.

For the quarter, higher adjusted results compared to the prior year were primarily due to growth from investments at the electric and gas utilities, favorable weather and lower O&M expenses. These items were partially offset by higher financing costs.

Within the segments, Electric Utilities & Infrastructure was up $0.25 compared to the prior year. Higher results were driven by base rate increases across multiple utilities; more favorable weather; and higher rider revenues, including recovery of our Midwest grid investments. O&M was also favorable in the quarter.

During September, Hurricane Dorian impacted our Florida and Carolinas utilities. We estimate total cost for Hurricane Dorian at approximately $400 million, including $150 million in Florida. We deferred the majority of these costs and will request recovery through regulatory proceedings at DEP and DEF in the coming months.

Similar to previous hurricane costs, such as Florence, a portion of the Dorian costs are not eligible for recovery. While Hurricane Dorian restoration costs impacted our quarterly results, we incurred higher costs in the third quarter of 2018 for a net favorable effect this quarter.

We also continue to excel at controlling traditional O&M costs, exceeding our own targeted savings for the quarter. While we expect some of the O&M favorability to turn in the fourth quarter due to timing, it is clear our digital and efficiency efforts are producing real savings. I will speak more about our capabilities in this area in a moment. These positive drivers were partially offset by higher depreciation from a growing asset base and slightly lower retail volumes.

Shifting to Gas Utilities & Infrastructure, results were up $0.01 in the quarter, largely due to growth from our midstream investments. While we did see growth in our LDC businesses from an increase in customers, we expect these businesses to have a strong earnings contribution in the fourth quarter due to seasonality.

In Commercial Renewables, results were up $0.02, driven by favorable wind resource and growth from our new projects. The Other segment was down $0.11 for the quarter, largely due to higher financing costs and timing of income tax expense recognition in the current year. We continue to expect our full year 2019 adjusted effective tax rate to be between 12% and 14%.

Finally, share dilution drove a $0.03 decline, given we issued shares in December to settle last year's equity forward agreements. We are very pleased with our results so far this year, delivering 7% growth on a year-to-date basis. This execution gives us confidence that we will achieve full year results within our narrowed 2019 earnings per share guidance range of $4.95 to $5.15.

Turning to Slide 10. We operate in jurisdictions with strong customer and business growth, fueled by steady population migration. In the third quarter, we saw a pause in the volume growth we experienced in recent quarters, driven primarily by the industrial sector. On a rolling 12-month basis, weather-normalized retail electric load growth was negative 0.5%. Within the residential class, we continue to experience outstanding customer growth in each of our territories, with an overall increase of 1.6% in 2019. Company-sponsored energy efficiency programs, for which we are compensated, have contributed to the decline in recent residential usage per customer. Residential results in the quarter were also likely impacted by Hurricane Dorian. These factors together resulted in relatively flat residential volumes for the rolling 12-month period.

In the commercial class, sales were down 0.6% over the rolling 12 months. Results were impacted by greater adoption of our energy efficiency programs and big-box retail closures. These were partially offset by an uptick in data center expansions and strength in the medical services segment.

Finally, sales in our industrial class declined 1.3% on a rolling 12-month basis. Lower industrial volumes were driven by manufacturing contractions and the weakening global economy. A few singular industrial closings and manufacturing outages further influenced the rolling 12-month average. We believe these specific outliers will improve as we move forward.

Overall, our strong customer growth, attractive jurisdictions and business diversity helped to mitigate broader macroeconomic headwinds. We expect to end the year flat to last year, and recall, this follows growth in 2018 of almost 1%. We will continue to monitor economic trends and impacts on our sales volumes. And we'll provide updates on our February call.

Turning to Slide 11. Let me update you on our active regulatory calendar. We filed rate cases for DEC and DEP in North Carolina in September and October, respectively. We are seeking recovery for investments in cleaner generation infrastructure, grid modernization projects and accelerated depreciation of certain coal units. The requests also include recovery of coal ash remediation spend and deferred storm costs. Now that the storm securitization bill is law, we will seek to securitize the North Carolina portion of these costs, which will reduce the rate impact to our customers. Both cases propose a 10.3% ROE and 53% equity component of the capital structure. Evidentiary hearings for the DEC case are set to begin in March 2020. We expect revised rates for both DEC and DEP to be effective in the third quarter 2020.

Moving to Piedmont Natural Gas. We are pleased with the outcome of the settlement in the North Carolina rate case, which was approved on October 31. Under the agreement, Piedmont has allowed a 9.7% ROE and 52% equity capital structure. Piedmont also received approval of a 9.9% ROE and 55% equity capital structure in their recent South Carolina annual regulatory filing.

Turning to our other utilities. We continue to work through rate case proceedings at Duke Energy Indiana and Duke Energy Kentucky, with hearings expected in the first quarter of 2020 in both cases. We have a robust regulatory strategy that has enabled us to consistently secure recovery of investments we make on behalf of our customers. Our regulators understand the importance of the work we do to serve our communities while also maintaining healthy utilities in their regions. We will continue this important work as we close out 2019 and move into 2020.

Shifting to Slide 12. Our strategy is focused on delivering value to customers through investments in clean energy, natural gas and grid infrastructure, underscored by a $37 billion growth capital plan through 2023. As Lynn mentioned, and as we have previously emphasized, we are committed to maintaining the strength of our balance sheet and are taking proactive steps to ensure our credit metrics remain strong. With ACP's projected revenues delayed until 2022, we intend to issue approximately $2.5 billion of equity by the end of 2020. This will align proceeds with the timing of ACP construction activities and help avoid unnecessary dilution in 2020.

In 2021 and 2022, dilution will be offset by increased ACP earnings. Given we are no longer pursuing a phased-in approach, AFUDC will accrue on the entire balance until full commissioning occurs, providing an earnings uplift during construction. This additional equity strengthens the company's credit profile and provides sufficient balance sheet strength to absorb a wide range of outcomes associated with ACP. We continue to expect equity issuances of $500 million per year through 2022 via the DRIP and ATM programs for a total of approximately $4 billion of equity issuances over this 3-year period compared to our previous plans of $1.5 billion during this time period. However, after ACP comes online, this additional equity will provide us the balance sheet flexibility to moderate or eliminate annual equity issuances or deploy additional capital towards regulated investments.

Let's turn to Slide 13, where I'd like to highlight the approximately 5.5% growth we've seen in our core electric and gas segments this year, which includes financing costs at the holding company. This is on top of the adjusted 5.5% growth we saw for these businesses in 2018 versus 2017. These results have been driven by execution on our $37 billion growth capital plan and top-notch O&M cost-control efforts, highlighting the outstanding electric and gas service territories in which we operate and giving us great confidence as we look to 2020 and beyond.

With that, let's move to Slide 14 to discuss the primary growth drivers for next year. I'll start with 2020 drivers in the Electric Utilities segment. In Florida, we will continue to recover our grid investments through the second base rate increase in our multiyear rate plan. We also expect growth from additional solar projects recovered under the solar base rate adjustment [mechanism]. In the Carolinas, we have a full year benefit of the South Carolina rate increases that went into effect in June. We'll have a partial year's contribution from the North Carolina rate cases filed this year, as well as increased wholesale earnings due to improved pricing. In the Midwest, we'll see the impacts of our Indiana and Kentucky rate cases, and we'll continue to invest in transmission and distribution upgrades that are recovered under our rider programs.

Shifting to the gas segment. We will see higher AFUDC earnings from ACP, given we expect construction activities to resume in 2020 once key permits are reissued. The LDC business will see growth from Piedmont's rate cases, customer additions and continued investments in integrity management and power generation infrastructure.

Our Commercial Renewables segment will be largely flat to 2019. But as Lynn mentioned, we have line of sight to substantially all our growth prospects for 2020 and 70% over the 5-year plan. In addition to a long utility-driven runway for investment, our demonstrated cost-control capabilities will remain an important tool to achieve our growth objectives. Our track record of cost management has been outstanding. Since 2015, we have actually lowered nonrecoverable O&M from $4.9 billion to $4.8 billion. This includes absorbing $300 million of O&M from the Piedmont acquisition in 2016, in addition to offsetting wage and salary increases and general inflation. In 2019, we continue to take advantage of our scope and scale by investing in digital capabilities and data analytics, which are creating sustainable cost savings. For example, we established an IDEA Lab earlier this year. We have nearly 400 people at this facility who are dedicated to developing digital applications and other solutions to benefit operations every day. In less than a year, they have put more than 20 applications into the field. We know these capabilities will serve us well over our long-term planning horizon.

Beyond 2020, we expect dilution from the $2.5 billion equity issuance to occur beginning in 2021. This will be offset by increased ACP earnings. We are no longer pursuing a phased-in approach, and therefore AFUDC will improve on the entire balance throughout the construction period, providing an earnings uplift in 2021 and 2022.

Many of the drivers I just described will also support earnings growth in 2021, such as the Florida multiyear rate plan and SoBRa investments; full year rate case impacts in North Carolina, Indiana and Kentucky; as well as continued grid investments in the Midwest utilities.

Longer term, we expect significant investment opportunity from storm hardening legislation and solar demand in Florida, the growing need for cleaner generation and energy delivery infrastructure in the Carolinas, and new gas distribution infrastructure across our footprint. These drivers give us confidence in our 4% to 6% earnings per share growth rate through 2023. Consistent with our historical practice, we will provide 2020 earnings guidance and our growth prospects for future years during our February financial update.

I'll close with Slide 15. We are having a fantastic 2019 as illustrated by another strong quarter. The fundamentals of our business remains strong, as does our attractive investor value proposition. It is founded upon our growing dividend, which currently yields 4%. Coupled with earnings growth of 4% to 6% from transparent low-risk investments, we offer a compelling risk-adjusted total shareholder return of 8% to 10%. Our scale, constructive service areas and ability to execute make Duke Energy a solid long-term investment opportunity.

With that, let's open the line for your questions.

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions) Our first question comes from the line of Shahriar Pourreza with Guggenheim Partners.

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Shahriar Pourreza, Guggenheim Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD and Head of North American Power [2]

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Just on the -- couple of questions here. On the equity that was just announced, curious on your thoughts on the timing, especially without knowing the viability of ACP. So can you run into a situation where you issue or commit to the equity and SCOTUS or further appeal, somehow deal a blow to the project, i.e., do you sort of need the equity if ACP is ultimately canceled? And then I'm just curious on how, Steve, you're thinking about the method on the equity. Hybrid, convertible, forwards?

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [3]

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Shar, I'll take that. I think this has been a journey on this project, as you know. And we really looked at the progress made in this quarter that provided us some clarity on a couple of important milestones. So certainly SCOTUS taking the case was important for us to have greater confidence in getting it over the trail. And then the fact that we've continued discussions on the biological opinion, discussions with our customers and contractors, all of that taken together, we concluded that targeting a single in-service date at the end of '21 with completion, mechanical completion in '21, full completion in '22 was the right approach, balancing customer benefits, construction efficiencies and all of those things. And so as we reach those milestones, we thought looking at financing was also appropriate. And as we looked at financing, we did consider a range of outcomes on this project. We are committed to completing the project. But I think the fact that we have had challenges along the way makes us clear-eyed about evaluating a range of outcomes. We also believe this approach supports the $37 billion capital that we're funding in the rest of our regulated business. And with getting the equity out there, we do have flexibility with our DRIP and ATM in the future if circumstances indicate that we could moderate that or we have additional investments that we could put forward. So we thought it was appropriate in light of the events that occurred this quarter, Shar, to derisk our plan; get the balance sheet in good shape; move forward, as we have said on Atlantic Coast Pipeline; and really feel like the plant itself is a solid one that represents good growth for investors.

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Shahriar Pourreza, Guggenheim Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD and Head of North American Power [4]

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Got it. So with or without -- sorry. Sorry, Steve. Go ahead.

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Steven Keith Young, Duke Energy Corporation - Executive VP & CFO [5]

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I was just going to say, regarding the mechanism, we've got plenty of time to do this equity. So there are, as you mentioned, a number of tools out there. We'll be looking at that and seeing what makes the most sense for us, but nothing further beyond that at this point.

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Shahriar Pourreza, Guggenheim Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD and Head of North American Power [6]

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So with or without ACP, the capital program you have necessitates the needs for equity, with or without ACP, I think?

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [7]

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Shar, what I would say is we have already invested almost $2 billion in ACP, and we are continuing to advance the project in light of the developments that have occurred. And so this equity is really to strengthen the balance sheet through that construction period, also supporting the capital growth. And we do have ability to the DRIP and ATM to moderate if we think that makes sense in the future. But we were -- we thought it was appropriate to look at financing and derisk the balance sheet at this stage in light of the progress that we've made.

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Shahriar Pourreza, Guggenheim Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD and Head of North American Power [8]

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Got it. And then just lastly, on Senate Bill 559, obviously, as you highlighted, it's signed into law, but it was obviously missing a key piece of the proposal around multiyear planning, ROE band, et cetera. Curious on why this was removed, especially given the Governor's kind of clean energy plan, which was submitted earlier this year and included the possibilities of these mechanisms. So he obviously understands the importance. So I'm curious why that ultimately was removed. And I have to envision the stakeholder process in the Governor's clean energy plan is going to be much more involved. So if you can give us a little bit of a sense on timing, that would be great.

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [9]

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Sure. Appreciate that, Shar. I think the fact that the clean energy plan gives recognition to regulatory modernization is a good thing. But the clean energy plan also includes carbon reductions of up to 70%, or greenhouse gas emission reductions up to 70%. Also talks about retirement of uneconomic coal plants, grid support for clean energy. So it does bring in a number of other topics. And I think the spirit of the stakeholder process will be to address not only the modernized regulatory construct but some of these other items. And as we look at the plan in light of our climate strategy, we see a great deal of alignment on how we would like to go forward and believe we'll be an important part of delivering the solutions that the Governor lays out in the clean energy plan.

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Operator [10]

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Our next question comes from the line of Michael Weinstein with Crédit Suisse.

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Michael Weinstein, Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division - United States Utilities Analyst [11]

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Can you eliminate further on reasons for delays at U.S. Fish and Wildlife into the first half of 2020? Does this -- does the move away from a phased-in approach simply mean that there's just no appetite among off-takers for that Phase 1 alternative that had been discussed previously?

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [12]

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Let me take that in 2 parts, Michael. So the discussions are underway with Fish and Wildlife. We are taking a look at all of the feedback from the Fourth Circuit, evaluating the next step. There's an extensive work done, as you know, additional surveys of the bumblebee and the clubshell mussel. And the intent of all of the parties is to address those concerns in a way that reduces any additional risks associated with remand from that permit. So we believe it could be issued as early as wintertime. We keep our eye on that tree-clearing window, as you know, to try to get trees cleared if we can before the 1st of March. But given our time line with the Appalachian Trail, we can also accommodate it slipping a little further in 2020.

I think in terms of the phased-in approach, we have continued discussion throughout this project with customers. And also monitoring all of the developments that have occurred, including these permit challenges, et cetera. And the greatest value for our customers is the complete project because they're trying to get to that supply basin, and also infrastructure diversity into the eastern part of the state. And so that single project is where our customers see the greatest value. And I also believe with our timing that the construction efficiencies of building it in a single phase also make a great deal of sense. So we've got some alignment. And with that movement to revenue in 2022, that was a driver as well as we thought about our financing plan.

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Michael Weinstein, Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division - United States Utilities Analyst [13]

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Got you. And one last one. Has there been any change to the approximate 2% dividend growth expectation? I know you have a commitment to dividend growth, but just wondering if this equity issuance makes any change to that.

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [14]

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Michael, we will reevaluate in connection with guidance in February, but I think that's a reasonable planning assumption for now. We see that as an opportunity and a way for us to moderate our payout ratio to be more in line with our industry peers, and the combination of all these things puts us in a very strong position to execute our growth plans.

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Operator [15]

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We'll next go to the line of Greg Gordon with Evercore ISI.

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Gregory Harmon Gordon, Evercore ISI Institutional Equities, Research Division - Senior MD and Head of Power & Utilities Research [16]

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Congrats on having a really strong year this year. As it pertains to ACP with the phased-in -- with the lack of a phased-in approach, you'll be booking the full AFUDC rate until the project goes into service. So I can see how that has an accretive effect to earnings in '21 and sort of is an offset to the increased share count. But when it goes into service and you start collecting the actual cash revenues based on the current contract rate, given that the project is coming in at $7.5 billion when the initial service cost was estimated to be in the mid $5 billions, not that you're alone, there's lots of pipes that are having this issue, shouldn't the return on the pipe, unless you're able to negotiate some pass-through of those cost overruns, go -- the cash earnings will be lower than the AFUDC rate unless you were able to get contract relief? Is that the right assumption?

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [17]

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Greg, I think it's important to recognize that we have been in conversations with customers all along the way on the status of the project and also the cost. And we do expect to reach an agreement in principle by the end of this year that provides the right balance between customer price and returns. So we have said a number of times that the actual executed return on this project will be a regulated like return, and we believe that continues to be a fair planning assumption. I think, as you know, the AFUDC rate is higher, about 14%, but we believe the in-service rate will be a very good regulated return.

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Gregory Harmon Gordon, Evercore ISI Institutional Equities, Research Division - Senior MD and Head of Power & Utilities Research [18]

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Okay. So you believe you'll be able to negotiate a balanced outcome where the after-tax ROE on the pipe -- on the current -- on the new construction cost will look like a good regulated return?

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [19]

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I think it will be a balanced outcome. Greg, the business case for this pipe has remained unchanged. If I look at it from the perspective of Duke Energy, the need for additional firm transport into the Carolinas is unchanged and increasing as time continues. And so this pipe in its entirety represents an extraordinary opportunity for us to position the Southeast for decades to come, and our customers recognize that. And the same is the case in Virginia and that eastern part of Virginia. So I think what often gets overlooked is that there's a fundamental need for this pipe because of the demand in the region.

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Operator [20]

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And we'll next go to Christopher Turnure with JPMorgan.

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Christopher James Turnure, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Analyst [21]

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Obviously, the markets are doing well and utilities are doing well in terms of stock price performance. I'm wondering if part of your plans included evaluating asset sales in lieu of doing equity. And then, I guess, tied to that question, is part of your decision to do this size of equity tied to the strong market performance?

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [22]

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Chris, it's a good question. And you know from our history, we have monetized assets over time, including as recently as a joint venture partner into our Commercial Renewables business. So we have evaluated it. We believe that our portfolio -- we like our portfolio. It's delivering value. It's growing. We have great investment opportunities. So our intent is to pursue this equity need through a security, through the markets as opposed to an asset disposition. And so we'll evaluate it, the timing opportunistically, as Steve mentioned, and believe it's going to position the company well for growth in the future.

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Christopher James Turnure, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Analyst [23]

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Okay. And then is it fair on the equity issuance to assume that the full amount of the $2-plus billion would hit your share count by the end of next year through (inaudible) structure or others?

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [24]

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2021. Yes. That's a fair planning assumption.

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Steven Keith Young, Duke Energy Corporation - Executive VP & CFO [25]

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Yes. That's correct.

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Christopher James Turnure, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Analyst [26]

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Okay. And then, Lynn, you started to address this in a prior question, but just the Governor's plan in North Carolina, kind of what it means for the future, seems like it's a good thing for you guys and your ability to invest in the state and further the goals there. But is there any more detail that you can provide us on next steps and your efforts to get lower regulatory lag and more visibility into your regulatory recovery?

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [27]

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Sure. And I guess I'll take that in 2 ways, Chris. On regulatory lag, we have that assignment regardless of what happens to the clean energy plan. And we'll accomplish it through deferrals, through capital optimization, through timing our rate cases well. And you can expect us to continue to focus on that very keenly. But as it pertains to the clean energy plan, early discussions are already underway. The Department of Environmental Quality of the state is overseeing this process. We would expect stakeholder workshops to kick off even as early as the end of this year, but continuing into 2020. And there were probably a half-dozen stakeholder processes during the course of '19 in preparation for the issuance of the plan. So it's already building some momentum. And as you noted, and as I said, we see a lot of alignment between our climate strategy and what the Governor is trying to accomplish. And I look at where we are in North Carolina with over 30% reduction in carbon emissions, already close to 35%. Our IRP plan puts us between 50% and 55% already by 2030. North Carolina is second in the nation in installed solar capacity. Over 50% of the energy comes from carbon-free sources. We're looking to second license renewal on nuclear. So there are a number of strategic things that, I think, line up well with this. And so we'll be very interested in continuing that discussion in 2020 with the clean energy plan stakeholder process.

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Christopher James Turnure, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Analyst [28]

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Okay. Is there a point in time at which those stakeholder discussions move to the Utility Commission? Or is that kind of too far out to tell?

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [29]

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I think it's too far out to tell. Chris, I do think, just getting back to part of it, so we have, in front of the commission right now, accelerated retirements of coal in connection with our rate case. So we'll have an opportunity to advance that discussion. It's consistent with the clean energy plan over the course of our rate case, and you can expect to see testimony along those lines. So there will be advances consistent with that plan during 2020. And we'll, of course, keep you informed about the stakeholder process as it unfolds.

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Operator [30]

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Our next question comes from Steve Fleishman with Wolfe Research.

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Steven Isaac Fleishman, Wolfe Research, LLC - MD & Senior Utilities Analyst [31]

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Could you just remind us the Commercial Renewables business, just given the increased projects you've had there, how much you're going to end up investing in that business roughly this year and maybe next year?

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [32]

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Steve will take that.

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Steven Keith Young, Duke Energy Corporation - Executive VP & CFO [33]

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Yes, Steve. I think we'll be in the range of $1 billion this year. It will be lesser amounts as we go forward, still in line with the 5-year plan of roughly $2.5 billion investment, but about $1 billion this year.

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Steven Isaac Fleishman, Wolfe Research, LLC - MD & Senior Utilities Analyst [34]

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Okay. And then switching back to kind of the news today on the equity and the like. So just maybe trying to ignore the exact timing by year, but just overall, if we still have ACP coming on, which is what was in the plan before, but there is now $2.5 billion of additional equity, can you just maybe better explain how that still keeps you in the same growth [rate]? Like what else is an offset? Is it just better performance in some of the other businesses?

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [35]

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So Steve, I think we should take that -- kind of break that down a little bit. So let's talk about the construction period of ACP. We have moved away from the phased-in approach, with a plan now for the project to go into mechanical completion in 2021, full in-service in 2022. So with this change, we will be accruing allowance for funds for a longer period of time on the full project than what we had previously considered, where we were putting part of 60% or so of the project in service at the end of '20 and then the rest in service at the end of '21. So that gives us additional earnings during the construction period that will offset dilution from the equity. And then as we go post in-service, we are working actively with customers, as I said a moment ago, to reach agreement, we believe in principle by the end of the year to find a balance between construction costs and returns on the project. That would be consistent with revenues that would come into service in 2022.

And then I think Steve kind of outlined, on Slide 14 of the deck, a very comprehensive set of drivers that are driving growth in the regulated businesses, and I believe we have consistently delivered within our growth range on the regulated businesses. And we see even more potential with the Florida legislation, with the Ohio legislation, with the clean energy plan being outlined in the Carolinas. And so as we come to The Street in February, we'll be giving you some more visibility on where we see additional growth. And we think the combination of all of these things give us confidence that we can remain within the range of 4% to 6% over our planning period.

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Operator [36]

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We'll next go to Praful Mehta with Citigroup.

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Praful Mehta, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - Director [37]

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So maybe coming back to the equity, but looking at it more from the credit side. It seems like there's a little bit of surprise around the need of equity, and it seems to be stemming more from a credit pressure that you're seeing potentially from the agencies. You had a sale earlier in the year, now you're doing more equity, even despite it sounds like where ACP goes from a timing perspective. So just wanted to understand, so we have a better kind of framework, what is the credit situation right now? What are the rating agencies saying? And is there like a minimum threshold you're trying to hit? Just so we get what's driving the fundamental equity need.

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [38]

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Praful, I'll try to do it, and Steve can chime in as well. I think it's important to focus on cash flow. And when we move an in-service date a full year, that means we're foregoing cash flow in 2021 and part of 2022 in Atlantic Coast Pipeline. And that is a substantial cash flow driver. We are committed, as we've said, to our metrics. We're targeting FFO to debt of 15% to 16%. We think that is appropriate and consistent with the way the agencies look at us. You know that Moody's has us on stable, S&P has us on negative outlook. Really looking not only ACP, but a number of other developments in our regulated business. And so I would look at this as us being responsive to developments that have occurred around an important project and consistent with our commitment to the balance sheet, which we have been clear about all along. So combination together is the way I would think about this equity issuance. And I'll look to Steve to see if he would add.

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Steven Keith Young, Duke Energy Corporation - Executive VP & CFO [39]

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I would echo that entirely. And we certainly want to have a solid balance sheet and the measure you think about there is a 15% FFO. And so we want to make sure that we can attain that. And as Lynn said, a delay of a project of this magnitude has a lot of cash flow implications. And so we want to be mindful of that and be proactive. And I think this will give us flexibility on the back end of things as well.

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Praful Mehta, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - Director [40]

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Got you. That's very helpful context. Appreciate that. And then maybe just quickly on coal ash and the DQE order. Just what is the current status of the appeal on that? Is there anything that you can share on the process there? I know you're expecting it to go well into 2020, as you referenced on your slides, but just wanted to see how to think about that process.

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [41]

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Praful, it is still moving forward. We are pursuing appeals through the OAH and also the North Carolina Superior Court. Our appeals are focused -- or our claims are focused not only on the process that led to the decision, but also the substance of the decision. And so that process continues. And as we reach milestones, we'll of course update on that. But that's where I would leave it at this point.

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Praful Mehta, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - Director [42]

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Got you. Finally, just on Florida. Clearly, positive in terms of the Senate Bill 796 and the authority around grid investment. Any color on opportunities to further increase your CapEx associated with this? I know you said you're evaluating everything that comes out of it, but how should we think about that and timing around what this could result in terms of incremental CapEx?

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [43]

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Sure. And Praful, Florida has been an environment that has recognized the need for grid investment, and we have been investing in hardening of our grid for some time. Right now, as part of our multiyear rate plan, we have over $1 billion of investment underway, and that plan runs through 2021. So we would see the potential to take advantage of this additional storm hardening as we look at resetting our multiyear rate plan for 2022 and forward, which gives us an opportunity to really put additional investment to work in Florida.

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Operator [44]

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We'll next go to Julien Dumoulin-Smith with Bank of America.

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Julien Patrick Dumoulin-Smith, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Director and Head of the US Power, Utilities & Alternative Energy Equity Research [45]

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So I'm going to try to follow up on some of the prior questions here a little bit more specifically. I believe in your prepared remarks, you talked a little bit more about additional distribution and infrastructure spend resulting from the equity raise, as well as dealing with ACP. And I understand that ACP's, to a large extent, at least at present, a timing-related issue. Can you elaborate on potential opportunities on that side in tandem with this capital raise to kind of think about? And I know we're a little bit ahead of the 4Q cycle to discuss that, but I just wanted to kind of dig in a little further on sort of the twin purposes at least disclosed for the capital raise. And understand also maybe at the same time, relative to that 15% FFO to debt, where do you stand? And how much latitude do you have in your metrics to see some of that cash flow degradation at the outset that you described from the delay in ACP?

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [46]

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So let me talk about grid investment first and then we can get to metrics, Julien. What I would say on grid investment is we see an increasing interest in investment in the grid throughout our service territory. Florida, we talked about a moment ago. Praful had questions around the Florida legislation. We also referenced Ohio. There's a House Bill 247 that's moving through in Ohio. You know we've got TDSIC in Indiana that has been an important investment opportunity. And then the clean energy plan that will progress in the Carolinas in 2020 also has a specific focus on modernizing the grid to support clean energy resilience and other initiatives. So we feel like there's just a lot of policy discussion around the grid that will give us an opportunity to continue to add capital in a way that delivers benefits to customers and also benefits to shareholders. I think the timing of how that rolls out will be jurisdiction by jurisdiction. I would think about Florida as being 2022. Ohio, I think we have to get the bill passed yet to see where that's going to lie. And then we'll progress on the clean energy plan during '20 in the Carolinas and have a better sense of where that capital will be deployed. Within our $37 billion, we already have a fair amount of capital that's underway. And we'll, of course, continue to execute that. On metrics, we should close 2019 at 15%. And Steve, why don't you talk about what you see in '20 and '21?

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Steven Keith Young, Duke Energy Corporation - Executive VP & CFO [47]

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Right. We should be at 15%. And as we move forward, we'll be in the 15%-ish range and the equity issuance and the advancements of other efforts and rate cases should start to drive us north of 15% as we move into 2021 and beyond. And that's our goal, is to be in the 15% to 16% range. That would give us sufficient headroom to deal with the types of things that pop up, such as hurricanes or other issues. And we think that will give us sufficient flexibility in our financial plan with this equity. And as we said earlier, if things can work out with Atlantic Coast Pipeline coming on, we have the opportunity to ramp back on the ATM or to invest in the type of infrastructure that Lynn alluded to. There's a lot of opportunities out there. So that's basically the plan to get north of 15%, in the 15% to 16% range, and we'll be doing that as we move through '21 and beyond.

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Julien Patrick Dumoulin-Smith, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Director and Head of the US Power, Utilities & Alternative Energy Equity Research [48]

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Got it. Can you quickly elaborate just in terms of the '20 dynamics specifically? You alluded to a flat infrastructure renewable contribution next year. And I think if I understand it right, the equity capital should have a minimal impact next year as well, just based on timing, but I don't want to put words in your mouth on that. And then maybe just specific...

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [49]

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No. The minimal dilution in '20, Commercial Renewables will be flat. And the drivers, as Steve outlined, I think it's Slide 14, Julien, are very comprehensive. So I think you can track through those in a way that gives you a lot of confidence on 2020.

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Julien Patrick Dumoulin-Smith, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Director and Head of the US Power, Utilities & Alternative Energy Equity Research [50]

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Okay. Confidence as in the current trajectory?

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [51]

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Yes.

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Steven Keith Young, Duke Energy Corporation - Executive VP & CFO [52]

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Yes.

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Operator [53]

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And next, we'll go to Michael Lapides with Goldman Sachs.

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Michael Jay Lapides, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - VP [54]

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A couple of questions. First of all, on the Commercial Renewables side, how are you thinking about investment going forward, meaning in 2021? I get you'd love to do more at the utilities. I'm just curious, trying to get my arms around your plans when you're thinking about the next couple of years.

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Steven Keith Young, Duke Energy Corporation - Executive VP & CFO [55]

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Well, we'll roll out and update our capital plan in February, as you know, Michael. But we had laid out last February about $2.5 billion of capital through 2023. As I mentioned earlier, we're doing about $1 billion this year, it will be lesser amounts going forward. I think we'll be deploying an amount of capital that will keep the earnings profile relatively flat, in the $200 million-ish range is what we're looking at. I had mentioned earlier that to keep that profile going forward, we'd need to land 300 megawatts a year of projects, given the earnings profile and so forth. So I don't see the capital proportionately growing in this particular segment as we go forward. But there will be capital as we land a few new projects each year.

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [56]

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And then, Michael, like, Florida solar is directly in the regulated capital plan. So the 700 megawatts that we're building there and to the extent we build any of the CPRE and the regulated utility in the Carolinas, that capital would be in the regulated capital plan.

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Michael Jay Lapides, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - VP [57]

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Just one follow-up, though. Can you -- how much of a benefit occurred in 2019 earnings so far that are impacting tax that are related to ITC benefits you took for projects that came online this year?

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Steven Keith Young, Duke Energy Corporation - Executive VP & CFO [58]

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Well, a lot of the growth that we saw and targeted for Commercial Renewables was from solar projects. And those -- that profitability is driven by the tax benefits. And when we closed tax partnership arrangements there, you recognize a lot of the tax benefits. So we've got $139 million of net income so far this year. We've got a combination of some wind and solar projects. The solar projects, in particular, hit the earnings early.

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [59]

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Michael, I think it's important to recognize that these projects are locked in for '19 and '20, and we are committed to a flat trajectory, around $200 million of net income over the 5-year period. And 70% of that is already committed in our pipeline. So it's an important part of the business. But I think in terms of the volatility or any volatility you could expect, this is an area that we feel like we have very well developed and managed.

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Steven Keith Young, Duke Energy Corporation - Executive VP & CFO [60]

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And I would also add that the projects that we'll be landing, prospectively, starting in 2020 will utilize a structure that we believe will have more of the spread of earnings recognition over 3- to 5-year-type periods.

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Michael Jay Lapides, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - VP [61]

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I appreciate that. I was just trying to think about, is there, I don't know, like, an EPS -- not cliff, but an EPS downdraft, if you do fewer projects in the next couple of years than you're doing this year in 2019, and therefore, you'll have less kind of onetime tax benefits in those future years.

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [62]

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I think you should include in your model roughly $200 million to $220 million of net income for the next 5 years because that's what we have in ours that we're committed to deliver.

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Steven Keith Young, Duke Energy Corporation - Executive VP & CFO [63]

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Right.

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Michael Jay Lapides, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - VP [64]

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Okay. And then one final item. Just curious, given this new kind of financing need, how you're thinking about M&A? I mean, obviously, there are some situations that are very public out there, municipals or cooperatives being sold in both Florida and South Carolina. But does -- the balance sheet constraints and the credit metric requiring the new equity, does that change your view at all on kind of broader sector M&A or asset M&A?

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [65]

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No, we think about what we talked about today, Michael, is within the construct of a very robust organic growth plan. That includes strong regulated investment, $37 billion of growth capital. I think you're talking about Santee Cooper or perhaps JEA. We are involved in those processes. We know both of those assets well. And we would evaluate those on whether or not it makes sense to be a part of that process going forward and whether we believe we can deliver value to shareholders. So we think about that as a separate and distinct analysis that we will accomplish in a way that makes sense.

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Operator [66]

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And ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude our time for questions today. I'd like to pass the conference back over to Ms. Lynn Good for any additional or closing remarks.

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Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation - Chairman, President & CEO [67]

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Great. Well, thank you, everyone, for your questions and your interest and investment in Duke. We look forward to seeing many of you at EEI in the next few days.

So thanks again.

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Operator [68]

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Thank you. And that does conclude today's call. Again, we thank you for your participation.

You may now disconnect.