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Influencers with Andy Serwer: Lynn Good

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Duke Energy President & CEO Lynn Good joins 'Influencers' to discuss the future of renewable energy and her plans to achieve 'net zero'.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

ANDY SERWER: President Biden just announced an aggressive plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. Will it bring a long-overdue economic transformation or threaten the country's growth on the brink of a recovery? No doubt Lynn Good will help shape what happens next. She's the chair, president, and CEO of Duke Energy, one of the largest US utility companies, which has vowed to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

She spent the first half of her career at accounting giant Arthur Andersen before jumping over to the energy sector in the early 2000s and taking over Duke Energy about a decade later. Today, the company has a market cap of more than $76 billion and serves millions of customers. On this episode of "Influencers," I speak with Lynn about the challenges of the climate transition, the ambitious Biden agenda, and what it all means for the energy sector's bottom line.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Hello, everyone. I'm Andy Serwer. Welcome to "Influencers." And welcome to our guest, Lynn Good, CEO of Duke Energy. Lynn, nice to see you.

LYNN GOOD: Andy, thanks so much. It's a pleasure to be here.

ANDY SERWER: So climate change is a very big topic right now. It's a big topic in Washington, DC, of course. And President Biden recently announced a pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030. Does that goal make sense for America?

LYNN GOOD: Andy, it's a great topic, and it's certainly a current one. I have been spending a lot of time on climate for a long time, and certainly the pace in 2021 has picked up. You know, Duke Energy is a believer in reducing carbon emissions, and we have been at the work of reducing emissions really for about a decade.

So our carbon emissions are down 40% from 2005 as I sit here today. And our goal is to be at least 50% by 2030. I think as the president talks about his goals, he's talking about an economy-wide goal, so also taking in transportation, also industry and business use of-- of carbon. And so I do think it is-- there's a shared goal, a common goal to reduce carbon emissions.

And this really sets the table for the conversations we need to have about the technologies that we need in order to make the progress to net zero. And we're anxious to be a part of those conversations.

ANDY SERWER: Do you think those kinds of national goals, Lynn, are achievable? And what do goals like that mean for the bottom line of your company and the energy sector as a whole?

LYNN GOOD: There's a couple of the things I would point to, Andy. We have really looked at our goal in terms of what we can do with present technologies. So I'm thinking about retiring coal, bringing in renewables, solar, wind, battery, some natural gas for reliability and resiliency. And we have a clear line of sight to get to at least 50% by 2030.

To get to an ultimate net zero, we have set a target of 2050 to get to net zero. Because we see a need for technology to develop. It could be hydrogen. It could be advanced nuclear with storage, carbon capture, other technologies that have the ability to meet the demands of our customers when they need the electricity.

And that investment in R&D we think is really critical in the next decade so that we can begin to use those technologies in the 2030s and 2040s to get to net zero. So there's no simple solution today on the shelf to achieve these very important goals. But I think as a country, and with the right focus and the right resources and the right attention on the tools that we need, we can make substantial progress. And that's our commitment at Duke Energy.

ANDY SERWER: I mean, is there a risk that aggressive climate goals could harm economic growth or that jobs loss in industries like coal would be difficult to replace?

LYNN GOOD: I think about environmental progress on carbon reduction, Andy, going hand-in-hand with two things, reliability. So we have to be able to transition this big electric sector in a way that maintains reliability. Our industrial customers count on it. Our residential customers count on it.

And we also have to keep an eye on affordability. Because economic competitiveness-- electricity is a part of the input in our country to be economically competitive.

So the pace of change and price typically go hand in hand. And as I think about this need for research and development, it is really to get these technologies to commercial scale at a price that's affordable so we can take advantage of them to make environmental progress.

So it's really all three things. Let's work on the environmental reduction of carbon, but let's maintain reliability and affordability. Because it's that combination that really makes us competitive as a country. And that's our goal as we think about the targets we've set. We always set them with reliability and affordability in mind.

ANDY SERWER: You mentioned reliability, and of course my mind goes right to Texas and what happened there. And-- well, maybe I'll just ask you, Lynn, what happened there? And could that happen to Duke?

LYNN GOOD: There are a number of things that come to my mind, Andy. Certainly very low temperatures, and very low temperatures coupled with lack of thorough weatherization for that type of decline in temperature. Some import issues where power can't get into the state easily, some market issues. There were a number of things.

So from renewables to natural gas to all kinds of plants, there were issues that developed as a part of that. And so we are taking this as an opportunity to relook at our weatherization, relook at our import capacity, relook at our diversity of fuels, relook at dual fuel capability so we're not dependent on just one fuel at a site.

And I think it's an opportunity for the industry to learn. There are some differences at Duke. We operate in a regulated market. We have very well-understood capacity requirements. We survived the polar vortex and have specific weatherization that has to occur. And because we're in the hurricane zone, we have an opportunity to look at our grid and grid investment over and over to make sure we're investing there.

And then dual fuel and diverse fuel capabilities are something that we've had for a long time. So I think what Texas has done is really elevate the conversation about the importance of reliability. Because when you go through any form of transformation of this energy sector, you can't walk away from it. Our customers are counting on it.

And so we'll take this opportunity to learn and refresh. If there's anything that we can do differently and better to make sure our customers have power, we will certainly do that.

ANDY SERWER: It's interesting because I did pick up on the fact that you were accentuating reliability, and maybe that does come to the fore when you see something like that happening in another state like that. Let me ask you, you know, there is so much conversation now about climate change and reducing your carbon footprint.

Do you get a little frustrated sometimes that people sort of overlook the fact, oh, well we're turning on the lights every day, just does that. But you better reduce your carbon footprint. I mean, do people sort of overlook that, it seems, to you?

LYNN GOOD: It's an interesting question, Andy. Because I do think our industry, like a lot of industries, has been back of mind for a long time. You can go a lifetime without seeing how power is actually produced because, you know, they're in areas outside of our urban center, et cetera. And we want you to count on us when you flip a switch without worrying about whether reliability is there.

So I do think there's been some call to educate on the complexity of what we do. And as I talk with policy makers and I certainly talk with our regulators, I talk with the agencies at the federal level, they understand the complexity that the bulk power system, how generation and transmission and distribution all have to work together.

They appreciate there's no single solution, that the strength of our industry has really been built on diverse resources over a long period of time. But I do think there's a need to educate and talk about how to bring reliability and complex systems together with environmental goals. And that's certainly our commitment here at Duke.

ANDY SERWER: What does the future mix of energy, sources of energy, look like in terms of electricity down the road? You mentioned we have coal, natural gas. There's renewables. You mentioned next-gen nuclear. What's your best guess, Lynn?

LYNN GOOD: Sure. I think I'd go to renewables first, Andy. I'd look at the renewables that we operate today. We will double renewable capacity by 2025. We will triple it by 2030. And it'll be 40%-plus of our energy mix by 2050. So renewables, associated battery storage that might be complementary to that I think just increases, increases, increases.

For us, I would put nuclear right at the top of the list as well. So Duke is the largest operator of regulated nuclear plants in the US. It represents 50% of the power that we deliver in the Carolinas. Maintaining those carbon-free nuclear resources is very important to achieving these environmental goals because I don't have a resource to replace nuclear with that's carbon free and provides the stable, all the time energy that it supplies.

I do believe natural gas is going to be a part of the equation for a while, Andy, because it has a different operating profile then either a renewable or a nuclear plant. It has the ability to back up or support renewables when they aren't available. So think about, you know, a winter morning when customers are using power. Solar is not on the system. Nuclear plants are already running.

What am I going to do to meet the need for that load? That's where natural gas plays a role today. And I think it will continue to play a role. Battery technology I would put in the mix. And then the need for R&D. When I start to pull fossil fuels out of the mix in the 2030s, I have a deficit of resources, meaning I need something that doesn't exist today.

That's where advanced nuclear with storage, or hydrogen, or carbon capture, longer-duration storage, all of those things could come into the mix. And I believe we will see them and need to see them in the 2030s to get to our net zero goal.

ANDY SERWER: I want to drill down a little bit in a couple of those areas. Let's talk about renewables. You're talking mostly about solar when you're talking about renewables, right?

LYNN GOOD: It depends on the geography, Andy. So in the Carolinas, solar is the predominant renewable resource. I think offshore wind could become important end of this decade into the 2030s. If you move into the middle part of the country, it'll be probably more wind. You move north, maybe more wind.

And so the geography I think matters. Solar also in Florida is an important resource I think it's-- it's important to recognize that there are geographies where a renewable resource works better than others. And in an economic way, if we can match that geography with the resource, I think it will be more competitive for our customers.

ANDY SERWER: And the big problem with solar really is the storage problem. What was the line? It's the only business where you make stuff and then you can't save it or something like that, right?

LYNN GOOD: There you go. There are batteries today, Andy, but they represent hours. So if you generate the power in the afternoon, you can move that to the evening. But as I look at pulling out natural gas and other resources, I may need to move the power from one week to three weeks down the road. Or I may need to move it from October to January.

And that's where things like hydrogen could potentially come into the mix. That's where natural gas with carbon capture, that's where advanced nuclear with a storage capability could be useful so that you have the ability to generate the carbon-free electricity and then use it when your customer needs the electricity.

ANDY SERWER: I want to ask now about nuclear a little bit because, you know, of course, people, they get their hackles up and think Fukushima, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and then the huge cost overruns. Why are you sanguine about this, Lynn, and what does next-gen nuclear really mean?

LYNN GOOD: Andy, it's a very good question. And we have been a long-term operator of nuclear at Duke Energy, a leader, really, in this technology. And our commitment to our customers and communities is we will operate it safely, no-- no-- full stop. We will only operate these plants as long as we have the highest degree of confidence that they can operate safely.

And they represent such a foundational element of what we supply today. And it's really throughout the US. A substantial amount of the carbon-free energy that we use across the US comes from nuclear. So maintaining that while we bring in other technologies to continue our progress is really important.

I know safety can be a question, and we engage actively with our communities so that they understand what the safety requirements are that we demand of our resources. And I think that will continue to be important. And our communities generally embrace these plants. They're big employers. They're active in the community in a way that not only supplies great power but also supports those communities.

I think the issue you're raising on price is really an issue that you could raise on any new and developing technology. So when I think about advanced nuclear, next-generation nuclear, these are technologies that are under development today. Bill Gates is very active in this with TerraPower. It's an advanced reactor that has the ability to store power in molten salt to be used as needed.

A demonstration project is planned in the early 2030s, so we need to get it developed. We need to get it commercial. We need to get it down the price curve so that that technology becomes more viable. You know, offshore wind, also expensive today. If we invest in it, we get the infrastructure to support it. We get the permitting working in a way that is achievable. Its price will also come down.

And so I do think there is an introduction of some of these advanced technologies that you invest to get them there, and then you get the price curve down so that it's more affordable. And the advanced nuclear that we're looking at, Andy, comes in smaller pieces, so 200 megawatts, not 2,000. And so you have a chance to bring in a smaller resource and hopefully a smaller price as we continue our progress on carbon reduction.

ANDY SERWER: Fascinating. It's interesting that in all these areas, you're sort of counting on, I guess it's accurate to say, technological breakthroughs to enhance the P&L on these businesses, right?

LYNN GOOD: Really to enhance the solutions that we can put in place to deliver the power that our customers are counting on.

ANDY SERWER: Right.

LYNN GOOD: And that's really the way I would talk about it, Andy. And it needs to be affordable in order for us to maintain the economic competitiveness of our regions.

ANDY SERWER: You mentioned offshore wind. Does that have the same storage issues at this point that solar has?

LYNN GOOD: The capacity of offshore wind, meaning the amount of time that it generates energy is generally more than solar. So if you think about the capacity of a solar plant, generally around 20%. Offshore wind can be 40% to 50% and even higher in certain geographic regions, and so it does have the ability to produce more often, Andy, but it's not 95%, which is what we enjoy with a nuclear power plant.

And so there still will be the need to transmit the power. You know, I think about offshore wind here in the Carolinas in particular. People don't live on the coast in the Carolinas. The big load-- they do, but the big load centers are in Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro, Charlotte. And so getting the power to the people will require a transmission investment. And of course, battery storage and other forms of storage could be part of the solution as well.

ANDY SERWER: And how can those big things withstand hurricanes?

LYNN GOOD: Well, they are rated to withstand weather conditions, and that's certainly something you'd look at closely on the Atlantic coast because of the hurricane patterns that we experience.

ANDY SERWER: Yeah, no doubt. I think I read, Lynn, that you knew exactly what day-- I'm not surprised that you knew exactly what day was the peak power usage in the Charlotte area. A day in February, I think you said?

LYNN GOOD: Yes.

ANDY SERWER: And that sort of surprised me because I thought it would be air conditioning, but I guess it's heating.

LYNN GOOD: It's heating.

ANDY SERWER: Right? Talk about how it is with different geographies that you serve that way.

LYNN GOOD: Sure. And, you know, it's interesting, Andy, because the peak load in the Carolinas has moved back and forth between summer and winter over, you know, a number of years. But it's been more often in the winter recently. And what's significant about that is we need to be able to meet peak demand. That's what we represent, is assets available when our customers need the power.

And the unique aspects of the winter are the peak usually occurs when it's dark, in the morning, which makes it difficult to have a renewable resource available. And further, a lot of times in the winter, we'll have an overcast week, meaning that the resource may not be available to full power, a renewable resource, solar, to full power at any point over a week. So that gives us a need to have some of these diverse resources that are-- I can call upon when my customer needs the power.

Certainly, we experience air conditioning load in the Southeast. That's an important part of what we do as well. Solar matches a little bit better with summer peak because the power gets produced in the afternoon. I can move it to the evening if need be. So it's a resource that may match-- you know, matches a little bit better with summer peak.

ANDY SERWER: That's fascinating, though, that it flip-flops in North Carolina, whereas in Florida it's always the summer and in Maine it's always the winter, right?

LYNN GOOD: That's right. That's right.

ANDY SERWER: Interesting. I want to switch gears a little bit and ask about President Biden's infrastructure proposal, the $2 trillion infrastructure proposal. What do you think about that, and how does an energy company like Duke fit in to the thinking there?

LYNN GOOD: You know, Bill, it's very related to what we've just been talking about. Because 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. It is retirement of existing assets and it's bringing in new assets. And it's, you know. Investing in the grid for reliability and the ability to incorporate all these renewables.

It's making EV 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. And I think 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.

So we are engaged in the conversation 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.

ANDY SERWER: Another development in the Biden administration is tax reform, corporate tax reform. And, you know, you were an accountant, right?

LYNN GOOD: Yes.

ANDY SERWER: Still are, I guess.

LYNN GOOD: Maybe by degree. I'm not-- I don't hold any certificates anymore, Andy.

ANDY SERWER: Right. Right. There you go, I want to ask you about the tax burden that you pay. And, you know, is it enough? Should you pay more? What do you think about tax reform when it comes to your company?

LYNN GOOD: I think there are a couple of things I would talk about, Andy. As tax reform is being discussed, one of the things that is being discussed is tax incentives around this clean energy transition, so tax incentives for electrification, Electric Vehicles, EV infrastructure, perhaps battery storage, perhaps extension of tax incentives for wind and solar. So I think all of those things are complementary to the clean energy transition that we're talking about.

But one of the things that's unique about a regulated company like Duke Energy is income taxes are part of the cost of delivering electricity. And so what I mean by that is when tax rates came down, I reduced the cost of electricity to my customers by over a billion dollars. It did not stay in the corporate coffers of Duke Energy. It flowed right to customers.

And similarly, if taxes rise, it becomes something that we'll work with our regulators and customers on to try to minimize the impact. So it is just part of what a regulated company does. And so we're focused, of course, on this within that construct of affordability and also the incentives to help align with the clean energy transition.

ANDY SERWER: Lynn, talk about the past 12 months and COVID and how that impacted the business and then also other constituents, which is to say employees, and where do you think things are right now.

LYNN GOOD: Sure. Andy, it was a moment, I guess, about a year ago, right, in March, where we were trying to decide, how do we-- how do we work in an environment called a pandemic? And for Duke, if you think about our employees in power plants, our line workers that are so important for storm restoration and maintaining reliable power, about 50%-- 40% to 50% of our workforce has been in the workplace, in the field absolutely every day.

And maintaining safety, temperature checking, masking, social distancing, changing our processes so people aren't gathering, changing the way we do hurricane restoration because we can't house and feed people the same way, all of that has been a keen focus because keeping our employees safe is job one, job one at Duke Energy.

The other part of the employee base we enabled to work remotely, much like you're doing, putting technology and other resources in place so our employees could work safely that way. And then in terms of the business, we suffered a decline in electric usage, really driven by our industrial customers as they were figuring out, how are we going to deal with the pandemic. And then our commercial customers, colleges and universities, retail, restaurants, you know, think about all the challenges small businesses have had. So we had a decline in electric load as a result of that.

ANDY SERWER: What sort of a decline was it? Was it 10%, 30%?

LYNN GOOD: So--

ANDY SERWER: How do you characterize it?

LYNN GOOD: No, you know, by class, it could have been 10% to 15% early on in the industrial segment. For the whole year, though, Andy, it was about 3%--

ANDY SERWER: Right.

LYNN GOOD: --all of 2020.

ANDY SERWER: Did you see an increase in consumer because people were at home doing things all day?

LYNN GOOD: We saw an increase in residential, exactly the case. And so as we sit here today, we are optimistic about the rebound. But we still believe it's going to take us until 2022 to get back to 2019 levels--

ANDY SERWER: Hm, OK.

LYNN GOOD: --in terms of electric sales. We were also really active with customers because this wasn't just a pandemic. It was an economic issue. So we suspended disconnects. We waived late payment fees. We did all kinds of things to try to support customers during this time. And that has been an important part of our work through this entire period. And we're pleased to see a number of our small businesses reopening and customers getting back on their feet. So it was not only a health issue. It was an economic issue.

ANDY SERWER: And how many employees do you have? And are the office workers back in the offices right now, Lynn?

LYNN GOOD: Not quite. So we employ almost 30,000 employees and, Andy, have probably another 30,000 contract resources on our system helping with our work. Right now, we're going to pilot bringing back a few thousand employees in June, and then we'll begin returning the rest of the workforce in September. We're offering a hybrid approach-- some time at home, some time in the office-- as we bring people back to the workplace, not only to provide flexibility, but so that we can continue to, you know, experience social distancing and other things that might be important, depending on how the vaccination of the virus behaves over the rest of the year.

ANDY SERWER: Lynn, let me ask you a little bit about Duke's stock. The stock has underperformed the averages over the past year or so but kind of made up some of that over the past couple of months. Is this the classic growth versus value trade-off in the market that we've also been-- we've been covering so much? And how are you addressing this? How are you thinking about Duke stock right now?

LYNN GOOD: Sure. We've had a really strong 2021. And, Andy, the rebound in the stock really started in about July of last year. And it had to do with a couple of things, resolving some uncertainties around the company, regulatory uncertainty, some litigation, and other things, but also building some momentum around growth. This clean energy transition, we had an ESG day. We filed some plans and our largest jurisdiction on how we're going to achieve these reductions, what it means for investors, raised our growth rate.

And so the combination of a really strong vision for the future with growth and a strong dividend I think has positioned the stock really well. And that coupled with eliminating uncertainties-- as you know, investors always prefer when uncertainties are eliminated. And to the extent we can do that, I think that has also been a real benefit to the stock. So we're optimistic. And as we think about the economy rebounding, we're really well positioned with the Carolinas and Florida leading the way with customer growth, migration, other things that I think really underpin the growth of the company going forward.

ANDY SERWER: Last year, Lynn, Forbes named Duke one of the best employers for women. What have you done to succeed in that area, and why do you think it's been so difficult for the business world as a whole to make progress, especially at the leadership level? And I guess, is it easier to make progress being a woman CEO?

LYNN GOOD: I don't know, Andy, if it is easier because I'm a woman. What I would say is the progress around diversity and inclusion is extraordinarily important at Duke Energy. And I would also say the work is never done. And so 2020 was just a reminder to all of us of the importance of diversity and inclusion, progressing employees, progressing minorities into leadership roles.

And we really used 2020 as an opportunity to reignite our aspirations around diversity and inclusion, to make sure our culture is the kind of culture that embraces employees from very diverse backgrounds. We hosted over 500 conversations among employees on what diversity and inclusion means, really on the-- resulting from the George Floyd incident earlier in the year.

So I would say the progress is never done. But I would also say that at Duke, we place a very high priority on making sure that we are creating a diverse workplace that is inclusive so that our company looks like the communities that we serve.

ANDY SERWER: You credit your father, who was a teacher, for steering you in a career into business. What did you learn from him, and how does that affect how you do business today?

LYNN GOOD: I would say, Andy, that my father had a big impact on me. And I'm sure fathers have an opportunity to impact young women all the time. It was nothing more complicated than telling me I could do anything. And when you get that endorsement as a young person, you know, looking at college careers and imagining what you can do, that endorsement was really important to me.

So I came from a family of teachers. It's an honorable profession, and there are a lot of teachers and nurses in my family. And my father actually talked with me about, Lynn, I think computer science might be good for you because you're mathematical and financial and so on. And so he kind of pushed me to move in a slightly different direction and did so in a very encouraging way.

So he was a-- he passed away a few years ago. And he was a Marine by background. He had an extraordinary impact on my life, and I'm very proud of my father.

ANDY SERWER: That's great. My parents were both teachers. My father passed away a few years ago and was in the Army, so--

LYNN GOOD: There you go.

ANDY SERWER: --I know the feeling. Final question, Lynn. What do you see your legacy being at this point?

LYNN GOOD: You know, I hope my legacy, Andy, is that Duke Energy is a stronger company achieving all that we're capable of achieving, not only this clean energy transition we've been talking about, but delighting our customers, serving them well, being the diverse and inclusive employer and community leader that I know we're capable of. So I would say a strong Duke Energy will be an incredible legacy for me. And I'm honored to be in this role and be surrounded by so many great people who care deeply about what we do.

ANDY SERWER: Lynn Good, CEO of Duke Energy, thank you so much for your time.

LYNN GOOD: Andy, thank you. It was a pleasure.

ANDY SERWER: You've been watching "Influencers." I'm Andy Serwer. We'll see you next time.