University of Florida and Duke Energy, an Unsustainable Relationship

Do you know who meets the University of Florida’s energy needs?  Gainesville Regional Utilities?  Progress Energy?  Duke Energy?

It is not Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU), and Progress Energy would have been the correct answer before a year ago.  In July 2012, Progress Energy merged with competitor, Duke Energy, forming the largest energy company in the United States.  Duke Energy now provides electricity to a large portion of north Florida as well as western North Carolina, South Carolina, and parts of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.

Duke Energy operates a natural gas-powered turbine power plant that generates 42 megawatts of electricity near the Health Sciences part of the University of Florida (UF) campus in Gainesville.  Opening in 1994, the plant generates electricity and has a generator that produced steam for heating.  UF pays Duke Energy about $42 million for electricity and $4 million for steam heating annually.

The contract between UF and Duke Energy expires in December 2014.  GRU and several other energy companies are interested in becoming UF’s energy provider if this deal expires and is not renewed with Duke Energy.  UF faces a huge opportunity to renegotiate with Duke or other service providers for a clean energy future. The ramifications of this decision will be felt for many years to come. We hope that UF will choose wisely and are asking for an open, inclusive process that keeps UF’s sustainability goals at the forefront as it selects its future energy provider.

There are significant opportunities for Duke or other service providers to meet UF’s goal of clean energy in an economical manner. UF’s current relationship with Duke not only harms the planet; it also hurts our economy and wastes taxpayer dollars. Under its current arrangement, much of the tens of millions of dollars that UF spends on energy annually is sucked out of our state’s economy to pay for non-local fuel sources and to pad the pockets of Duke/Progress shareholders. Conversely, investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency would not only strengthen our local economy, but would reduce UF’s carbon footprint and the harm that the University’s energy choices inflict upon other communities.”

Why is this relationship with Duke Energy unsustainable?

In comparison to other large utility companies, Duke Energy’s strategies for the future reduce emissions and update their power stations at a much slower rate (e.g. AEP).  Duke Energy’s current 20 year plan calls for an increase in renewable energy generation from 0.2 (2013) to 3% in 2032 while maintaining 77% of its coal capacity, expanding nuclear capacity and doubling natural gas capacity.  Greenpeace analyses demonstrate that if Duke Energy shows a strong commitment to renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, it could save its Carolina customers up to 108 billion dollars.  Instead, Duke Energy has requested increases in residential rates of over 10% after recently increasing energy rates by 7.2%.

A report by the NAACP ranking and grading the effects of coal-fired power plants on low-income and people of color communities gave Duke Energy a failing grade for environmental justice performance.  This grade comes from a study of 378 plants based on their SO2 and NOx emissions and a failing grade indicates that Duke Energy operates plants that have a “considerable and disproportionate impact” on low-income households and people of color.

How are other Universities responding to Duke Energy?

On other campuses, students are demanding their institutions divest in big oil and coal companies. Without divesting in companies such as Duke Energy, they would not be able to reach their sustainability goals.  In 2010, the University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill campus declared it will end its use of coal by 2020.  A few months ago, the UNC system president sent a letter to Duke Energy requesting more clean energy in efforts to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

It is clear that Duke energy does not currently align well with UF’s sustainability policies and carbon neutrality goals.  Join Gainesville Loves Mountains in encouraging UF and its students to demand cleaner energy and higher social responsibility standards by signing our online petition.

2 thoughts on “University of Florida and Duke Energy, an Unsustainable Relationship


    Quite frankly I think Duke Energy (which, in this state, is substantially Progress Energy – little leadership has changed) is doing more than GRU for overall climate change. Your petition, which requests that the UF live up to it’s commitment to become carbon neutral, rests entirely on the supposition that the biomass plant is carbon neutral. That can be argued.

    • Mary, please let us know if you see specific language in our petition or other materials that seem to be advocating for UF to switch to GRU. That is certainly not the intention of our advocacy. In fact, more than one of our coalition members are staunchly anti-GREC and would oppose any effort to pressure UF to switch to GRU. The language we’ve used re: carbon neutrality relates to UF’s own commitments, which we’re simply asking them to live up to. If Duke can help UF meet that commitment, that’s fantastic.

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