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Nancy Smith

Duke Energy's New Hire Has His Work Cut Out to Rehab the Company Image

December 7, 2014 - 6:00pm

Could there be a bigger political pariah in corporate Florida than Duke Energy?

I bring this up now because I notice Duke, largest power company in the country -- the one whose aggressive inertia probably did more to threaten Gov. Rick Scott's re-election than the Florida Democratic Party -- has hired Selim Bingol as its new senior vice president.

I have high hopes for this new exec.

Bingol will direct Duke Energy's communications strategy and services, "such as internal and external communications support for business units, media relations, and executive communications," a PRWeek story explains. He will report directly toJennifer Weber, executive vice president of external affairs and strategic policy. And he's expected to have some visibility in Florida.

Bingol stepped down as General Motors' senior vice president of global communications and public policy in April. He had overseen the automaker's corporate, global products, and brand communications and its federal, state, and international government relations and public policy work. He was also chairman of the GM Foundation.

Bingol has a reputation as something of a makeover guru. A Mr. Fix-It, I hear tell. He's been to such corporations as GM and ATT&T what Stanley Kubrick was to Hollywood.

I hope I'm right, because in Florida, Bingol will need all his magic -- everything he can pull out of his hat -- to prove Duke Energy can be a good citizen and actually has some respect for ratepayers.

He can begin by waking up Jennifer Weber and the Duke board to just how badly the company bungled its foray into the Sunshine State.

As soon as it bought Progress Energy in 2012 -- and I mean virtually as soon as it hit Florida -- the company was lobbying Tallahassee to dump policies made to encourage energy efficiency. What it did is to effectively marginalize alternative energy industries.

More damaging still, it did nothing to abdicate its ability under a 2006 state law, signed by Gov. Jeb Bush and expanded by Gov. Charlie Crist, that says utilities can charge customers upfront for the costs of building approved nuclear power plants -- even when those plants never get built.

In fact, Duke Energy customers paid $1 billion but never got a single kilowatt of energy from the Levy County nuclear power plant, then -- because of the state law -- the Florida Public Service Commission agreed to let the company collect another $108 million a year through 2017 for the now shuttered Crystal River reactor and the canceled Levy County project.

One poll in west Pasco County before the election showed that only 17 percent of voters there had a favorable view of Duke Energy.

Throughout the campaign, Scott and the Republicans were skewered in ads for taking Duke's $1.2 million in campaign money while the company gouged its Florida customers like a steam shovel in a coal ash pit. (The Democrats took Duke Energy money, too -- every nickel of it they were offered, about $400,00. The company just didn't give the Dems as much. )

Duke stood idly by throughout the fall, pushing ahead with its profit-building agenda, while former Gov. Charlie Crist and his liberal pals unjustly bludgeoned Scott over the company's sins and misdeeds. When Scott won, he did it in spite of Duke and the Crist camp's attempt to wrap the power company around his neck.

Does Duke Energy really value its Florida customers or care about its seismic effect on the political landscape? With a market value topping $56 billion, Duke is bigger than GM. Which gives me the uncomfortable feelingthis Charlotte, N.C.-based power megalith is only bottom-line feeding in the Sunshine State.

Providing Florida really is among his priorities, Bingol has his fix-it work cut out.


Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

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