Will Departing Duke CEO Rogers Officially Join the Obama Team?

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Jim Rogers and windmill photoNow that he’s been forced out as chairman and CEO of Duke Energy, James Rogers is apparently looking for something else to do, and may now be more receptive to the idea of becoming President Obama’s next Secretary of Energy.

The new speculation, primarily from the Charlotte Business Journal, which is based in Duke’s home city, arose following an interview that Rogers did with Bloomberg News while at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Whereas Rogers used to routinely dismiss suggestions that he might be up for a cabinet post, when asked this time by Bloomberg reporter Tom Keene what he would bring to the job if the president asked him to serve, he was unhesitant.

“What I would bring is someone that’s been in the industry a long time and understands the importance of getting the balance right between cheap, affordable energy and meeting our environmental goals,” he replied.

Whether there’s any serious consideration for Rogers to replace current Energy Secretary Steven Chu is unknown, but the first four years showed that President Obama had no interest in striking any “balance” between affordable energy and the environment. Rather, as he said during his 2008 campaign, he believed under his policy that electricity rates should “necessarily skyrocket.” Ever since, with the able assistance of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, he has sought every opportunity to kill the coal industry via the increase in regulations of both mining and of utilities’ coal-fired power plants.

Simultaneously the Obama administration has vigorously pursued expansion of the extremely costly “green” energy industry with billions of dollars in subsidies, much of it with funds from the Recovery Act. Wind and solar companies – besides gaining access to stimulus-backed grants and loan guarantees – also have been granted contracts from utilities (that are also beneficiaries of similarly-sourced subsidies) to purchase the power they generate for durations often longer than two decades. Alternative energy businesses also enjoy special tax credits that diminish government revenues.

Considering this not-too-pretty picture, Rogers would be a perfect fit. As helmsman of Duke, he has pandered to eco-activists every time he figures out a way to make money from their expensive causes – like cap-and-trade – at the expense of his own ratepayers. Duke has won millions of dollars in grants for renewable projects and research from the stimulus, and has led Duke on a taxpayer-funded buying spree of wind and solar projects. Thanks to subsidies, tax credits, accelerated depreciation and government mandates to buy alternative energy, Rogers has said he is able to earn a 17 to 22 percent return on equity on the projects. Meanwhile, in North Carolina for example, both Duke and Progress Energy (now merged) have told lawmakers that they have collected about $250 million more from their ratepayers thanks to renewable energy mandates.

That’s called “necessarily skyrocketing” electricity costs, and it doesn’t stop there for Rogers and Duke. His seemingly endless pursuit to limit carbon emissions to fight the imaginary demon that is catastrophic global warming led him to initiate the disastrous Edwardsport, Ind. carbon (dioxide) capture and storage power plant. The goal was for the plant to employ under-tested technology for coal gasification in order to reduce CO2 emissions, but the project had huge cost overruns and led to a scandal that cost both Duke, and a few Indiana regulators, their jobs.

“Yes, it's expensive,” Rogers said in testimony before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission in October 2011. “But it will be the cleanest plant in Indiana.”

The excessive costs related to Edwardsport sent Rogers on a desperate search for a taxpayer bailout. The final price tag was estimated at $3.5 billion, far exceeding the $1.9 billion that was projected in 2007. Duke’s agreement with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission allows the company to collect nearly $2.6 billion of those expenditures from its ratepayers – thus more “necessarily skyrocketing” electricity prices, and the kind of a scheme that would easily align with the legacy of Energy Secretary Chu.

Finally, Rogers would be a great fit for the Obama team because he served the Democrats so well – especially in the 2012 campaign cycle. He helped convince the Democratic National Committee to hold the convention in Charlotte, and then committed to raise $36.6 million for the festivities. Duke Energy additionally provided a $10-million loan guarantee for the DNC, which put shareholder money at risk, while Rogers upheld the deception that the 2012 DNC would be “the most open and accessible convention in history,” as transparency about fundraising remained a mystery to the media and the public. The most recent reporting on the loan showed that Democrat convention committee used $7.9 million of the loan, with the ability to pay it back uncertain.

Then there is Rogers’s personal support for the party. He has contributed to the highest-level candidates (president, U.S. Senate, Majority leaders) of both major political parties in recent years, but records show he has greater enthusiasm for Democrats, with nearly $120,000 given to the DNC and the party’s Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Rogers has already gone as far as can imaginably be expected as a team player for the president and his party, especially as CEO for what is now the largest public utility in the country. He’ll be looking for something to do in the next few months, after the North Carolina Utilities Commission nudged him into retirement following the Progress Energy merger fiasco. A Duke spokesman denied Rogers would consider it, but Bloomberg columnist Paul Barrett thinks he belongs in the Obama administration.

“…He recognizes the need to forge a national energy policy that sharply reduces carbon emissions that contribute to global warming and the extreme weather it is increasingly visiting upon our little planet…,” Barrett wrote at the end of November. “He would be the perfect architect of and spokesman for a new, outside-the-box approach to reducing carbon. And would Republicans really oppose the appointment of an energy industry CEO?”

Sounds like a true Obama-type fantasist, one with the delusional belief that having a corporate background means automatic GOP approval. But such simplistic thinking is par for the course in the District of Columbia, which also contributes to getting the country in the financial fix it is in.

Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, an aggregator of North Carolina news.