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The climate transition demands ‘a massive change in infrastructure’: Duke Energy CEO

·3 min read
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President Joe Biden is expected to make the case for his $2 trillion infrastructure proposal during a primetime address to Congress on Wednesday night, placing the overhaul at the center of his administration's effort to rejuvenate the economy and address climate change.

Business groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable have criticized the corporate tax hike from 21% to 28% embedded in the plan, while acknowledging the need for government action to improve infrastructure.

In a new interview, Lynn Good — CEO of Duke Energy (DUK), one of the nation's largest utility companies — forwent a position on the plan but said the nation's infrastructure will require "massive change" for the climate transition, adding that she welcomes public spending to ease the transformation and will seek areas of overlap between her company's goals and Biden's.

"When I think about all of the work we're doing around climate, what it really means to Duke Energy is a massive change in infrastructure," she says. "It is retirement of existing assets, and it's bringing new assets."

"It's investing in the grid for reliability and the ability to incorporate all these renewables," she adds. "It's making [electric vehicle] infrastructure available for customers as electrification becomes a part of the equation." 

"So I think of infrastructure as something as a private capital company we are anxious to invest in, certainly public policy can support that," says Good, whose company has vowed to cut carbon emissions 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050. So far, the company cut emissions 40% below its 2005 levels by the end of 2020, it announced on Wednesday. 

Biden announced last week that the U.S. aims to cut its overall carbon emissions 50% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade.

The infrastructure plan put forward by the Biden administration would spend $180 billion on research and development, $115 billion on roads and bridges, and $85 billion on public transit, as well as $174 billion to incentivize consumers to buy electric vehicles and $100 billion to upgrade the energy grid, among other areas. The plan seeks to cover the costs through corporate tax hike collected over 15 years. 

Republicans on Capitol Hill have rejected the plan, offering a $568 billion counterproposal that eliminates the tax hike and focuses on traditional nuts-and-bolts infrastructure projects.

Lynn Good, Chair, President, and CEO of Duke Energy, speaks with Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer on an episode of
Lynn Good, Chair, President, and CEO of Duke Energy, speaks with Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer on an episode of "Influencers with Andy Serwer."

Good spoke to Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.

She spent the first half of her career at now-defunct accounting giant Arthur Andersen, before jumping over to the energy sector in the early 2000s and taking over North Carolina-based Duke Energy as CEO in 2013. 

Today, the company boasts a market cap of more than $76 billion, providing electricity to 7.8 million customers across six states in the Midwest and the South.

Speaking to Yahoo Finance, Good described features of the bill that have drawn her attention, and expressed a willingness to see if there's "any alignment" between Biden's plan and Duke Energy's climate objectives.

"As I understand, some of the things that are being discussed on this infrastructure bill: Incentives for renewable energy, investment in research and development, permitting reform, potentially to make infrastructure a little easier to accomplish in a timely way," she says.

"So we are engaged in the conversation [and] looking for whether or not there's any alignment around what the president is trying to achieve and what we're trying to achieve with the infrastructure bill to achieve our climate goals," she adds.

Update: This story has been updated with new information regarding the carbon emissions reduction achieved by Duke Energy.

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