What Utility Executives Really Think


In the battle over climate legislation, your local utility company doesn’t get as much attention as the big oil giants and coal companies of the world. But behind the scenes they’ve been powerful players; electric utilities spent $134.7 million last year, the second highest lobbying expenditure among energy interests looking to shape the debate on Capitol Hill.

While Exelon CEO John Rowe and Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers have been big boosters of carbon caps, the vast majority aren’t so enthusiastic– even if they realize regulations are probably coming soon.

A recent survey finds the majority of utility executives don’t see a problem with greenhouse gases at all. Forty-four percent of the 329 utility executives, managers and engineers surveyed don’t believe global warming is caused by human activity. Another 7 percent don’t believe the planet is warming at all.

Seventy percent oppose climate legislation currently under consideration. But despite opposing legislation, the majority of participants–65 percent–believe a cap on carbon will be enacted at the federal level by 2012. Only 6.7 percent don’t think there will ever be regulations on planet-warming gases. A full 80 percent of respondents listed regulations as the industry’s top concern.

Executives are, however, enthusiastic about nuclear power, which they list it as the preferred “environmentally friendly” energy source, with wind power and natural gas following behind. Support for nuclear power has gotten a shot in the arm recently as part of the clean-energy crusade from both senators and the White House, where nuclear payouts have been offered in exchange for support for climate legislation.

Utilities can be expected to play a significant ongoing role in the debate over carbon limits, though they don’t often get the attention that other interests draw.

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  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.