A coalition of seven Indiana environmental and conservation groups said they want Duke Energy to change the way it holds public meetings on the company’s plans for its next three years of operation.
In a letter sent to the company, the groups said Duke Energy should improve access, increase engagement and provide transparency during the company’s planning meetings for its 2021 Integrated Resource Plan.
The IRP is the company’s plan on how it will produce and deliver electricity and how it will meet state energy and environmental requirements.
Utilities in Indiana are required to submit their plans to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission for approval every three years. According to the IURC, the IRPs are subject to a rigorous stakeholder process.
The groups said that during the pandemic, Duke Energy has restricted access, engagement and transparency during virtual meetings where the company discusses its plans for the IRP.
They said the company has shut off web cameras, microphones and the public chat feature in public IRP meetings; only Duke Energy employees can see what is being said in the chat and by whom; and questions are read and answered by company staff only.
“These are not participatory stakeholder meetings so much as they are Duke-controlled presentations with little opportunity for customer input,” the groups said in the letter. “During the pandemic, many organizations have figured out how to improve online meeting spaces. There are plenty of resources for facilitating meaningful online conversations, the creative use of technologies, and preventing ‘Zoom bombers,’ for example. Utilities can easily adopt these best practices to truly engage stakeholders in their Integrated Resource Planning processes and ensure they are being heard. Instead, Duke set up a facade of engagement that actually shuts the public out.”
The groups have asked Duke Energy to make changes to its virtual public meeting format, including allowing the public to view the participants list, see all the comments in the chat feature, have the option to be seen on camera and be allowed to ask questions aloud.
Duke Energy said it is preparing a response to the letter.
The company will hold its next stakeholder meeting Sept. 10.
Duke Energy Indiana president Stan Pinegar responded to the coalition's letter, saying the virtual public hearing format has allowed participation several times larger at the daylong meetings than the company previously experienced.
Pinegar said some of the coalition’s statements in the letter were inaccurate, but said the company will investigate fulfilling some of the coalition’s meeting requests.
You can read the full letter here.