Under Johnson’s leadership, Progress Energy Florida (PEF) chose to self-manage an upgrade project at its troubled Crystal River 3 (CR3) nuclear reactor located north of Tampa, FL as opposed to bringing in outside experts. Progress chose a “do it yourself” approach to a complex steam generator upgrade that led to major cracks in the containment vessel. Progress Energy’s attempts to repair the cracks have led to further damage to the containment structure. Duke Energy had such a lack of confidence in the numbers that Progress Energy reported, the utility commissioned an independent report itself to evaluate the costs, which was recently released to the Florida Public Service Commission — you can find the full report here.
SACE Director of Research, John Wilson, has been deeply involved with utilities in the Southeast and is well-versed in Progress Energy’s energy efficiency and renewable energy policies and Johnson’s history with these issues.
When it comes to clean, safe energy options, Bill Johnson’s legacy at Progress Energy did not leave a record of leadership. Perhaps the most charitable interpretation of his tenure there is that he did not particularly care what his staff did – good or ill – about energy efficiency and renewable energy.
In some cases, his staff cared. Progress Energy supported the of the North Carolina law that has been driving up renewable energy and energy efficiency in the Carolinas. For example, the role of solar energy in utility generation is greater in North Carolina than in sunny Florida. Privately, many people give senior Progress Energy executive John McArthur, not Bill Johnson, credit for bringing Progress Energy to support Senate Bill 3 – the North Carolina Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard – in 2007.
Just a few years later, when Progress Energy Florida was challenged to step up on energy efficiency, the Progress Energy Florida message was characterized by inflammatory rhetoric. The utility’s Florida team “backed up” that rhetoric with error-ridden and confusing plans. While cordial in person, Progress Energy Florida staff demonstrated ill-will towards energy efficiency programs by shopping an energy efficiency plan with bloated costs to regulators, legislators and the media.
Even when we exposed the bloated costs, Progress Energy Florida staff unashamedly continued to claim that energy efficiency program costs were too costly for Florida, suggesting that energy savings could cost 8, 9 or even 10 cents per kWh. Yet Duke Energy Carolinas has recently achieved much the same level of efficiency at 1-2 cents per kWh, and both Progress Energy utilities are achieving middling levels of energy efficiency impacts at actual costs of 2-3 cents per kWh.
The relentless propaganda about high energy efficiency costs has since carried the day, with the Florida Public Service Commission not only agreeing to cancel new energy efficiency program development for Florida, but to effectively restore a policy which, according to national experts, “is overly narrow, ignores many of the benefits of energy efficiency programs, is inconsistent with the assessment of supply-side resources, does not necessarily reflect the actual impact on rates, and deprives customers of the opportunity to lower their bills through energy efficiency measures.” This is a policy that Progress Energy Florida has endorsed with little difficulty.
It seems to us that the merger with Duke Energy offers an opportunity for Progress Energy Florida to demonstrate more leadership on energy efficiency. And with this in mind, it is difficult to draw any positive experience from Bill Johnson’s record in Florida. Never did he personally intervene to improve the quality of the debate on energy efficiency or renewable energy issues. Never did he or his staff show the slightest remorse for their error-filled, yet sadly effective record of trashing energy efficiency’s prospects in the state.
Yet when it comes to actual program operations, Progress Energy (across its entire system) demonstrated an ability to execute reasonably well. A brief review of 2011 energy efficiency program data demonstrates that Progress Energy Florida outperformed most of its peers in Florida in terms of energy savings impact and keeping costs low. Progress did better in the Carolinas, perhaps to avoid suffering so much in comparison with regional energy efficiency leader Duke Energy.
So while there is no evidence that, in practice, Bill Johnson was hostile to energy efficiency programs, there is also no evidence that he particularly valued those results or claimed that success. While we know that both Progress Energy and Duke Energy are finding it easier to obtain and use renewable energy in the Carolinas, we have yet to see Progress Energy speak up and correct the renewable energy misinformation propagated in Florida. Considering what a struggle it is to organize a system of 155 distribution utilities across TVA to engage customers on energy efficiency, and how slowly TVA’s renewable energy programs have evolved, Bill Johnson seems singularly ill-prepared to overcome these challenges.