This week, Duke Energy Carolinas announced that it will invest nearly $1.4 million to help protect wildlife habitat and land conservation efforts in South Carolina into the foreseeable future.
The Oconee County Conservation Bank will benefit from $618,000 to support regional land conservation and habitat preservation efforts, while the Foothills Conservancy Program will receive $762,000 for the Keowee-Toxaway Habitat Enhancement Program (KTHEP), which supports projects that create, enhance and protect fish and wildlife habitats along the shores of Lake Keowee and Lake Jocassee, as well as in their watersheds.
These contributions are a result of the Keowee-Toxaway Relicensing Agreement that Duke Energy — which provides roughly 52,700 megawatts of electricity to 7.4 million customers throughout the Carolinas, the Midwest and Florida through a mix of nuclear, coal-fired, natural gas and hydroelectric power generation — entered into with 16 other stakeholder organizations during the Keowee-Toxaway Hydroelectric Project Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing process.
“Our board is proud to accept this gift from Duke Energy to help further the worthwhile purposes of the Oconee County Conservation Bank, including the conservation of natural resources, wildlife habitat, clean air and clean water,” said Shea Airey, chair of the Oconee County Conservation Board.
In addition to providing power to the region, Lake Keowee and Lake Jocassee have provided sanctuary for wildlife and helped drive the economy through tourism for decades.
The new 30-year license for the Keowee-Toxaway Hydroelectric Project, which took effect on September 1, 2016, represents a culmination of nearly a decade of collaboration among governmental and community stakeholders.
Other benefits of the license include improvements to existing public recreational areas on Lakes Jocassee and Keowee, and conservation of approximately 2,900 acres of property adjoining the lakes to preserve and protect ecologically and culturally significant resources.
“Receipt of the new operating license allows us to move forward with the plan developed during the relicensing stakeholder process. These contributions are key elements of that plan and we are pleased to invest in efforts that will help protect and enhance the natural environment in this region for generations to come,” said Steve Jester, Duke Energy’s VP of water strategy, hydro licensing and lake services. “These investments also benefit citizens and millions of visitors who travel to the area each year.”
This isn’t Duke Energy’s first flirtation with sustainability-related initiatives. Back in 2013, the company responded to customer demand and created a Green Source Rider program designed to give energy-intensive customers the option of offsetting some or all of their energy consumption from new load with renewable energy. The company has also been working on expanding its portfolio of renewables, and collaborating on a number of carbon-capture and storage research projects to explore potential technologies to capture CO2 from the flue gas of coal-fired power plants. Last year, Duke was among the funders of a program called Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development, which facilitates the use of renewable energy in agriculture, enabling communities in the developing world to more easily achieve food security and economic stability. And earlier this year, Duke was among 41 energy companies that accepted a challenge from the EPA to reduce their methane emissions; and among only 26 companies in the Global 500 with a GHG footprint of over 10 million tons whose total GHG emissions decreased by more than 8 percent.
In a time when the future of environmental policy and renewables remains uncertain, given president-elect Donald Trump’s explicit support for fossil fuels and stance on climate change, progressive projects that demonstrate changing attitudes among traditional energy companies are particularly encouraging. Despite party rhetoric, it is becoming increasingly apparent that we have reached a point where companies can no longer operate on a business-as-usual model or lag on the adoption of renewables — their bottom lines now depend on their ability to take the long view.