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Duke Energy Florida’s Catherine Stempien on solar energy, rate hikes and women in leadership

Margie Manning

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Catherine Stempien is president of Duke Energy Florida.

The president of Duke Energy Florida, Catherine Stempien, says the utility company is “building a smarter energy future.”

Catherine Stempien, president, Duke Energy Florida

Stempien, named Florida president for Charlotte, North Carolina-based Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK) 14 months ago, visited the St. Pete Catalyst studio earlier this week for a wide-ranging discussion of Duke’s investment in solar energy and other technologies, rates and women in leadership positions.

Based in St. Petersburg, Stempien is responsible for the financial performance of the company’s Florida operations and manages state and local regulatory and government relations, and community affairs.

She previously held other executive positions at Duke, including senior vice president of corporate development, executing acquisitions and divestures and helping the company develop its external growth strategy. She’s also practiced law.

The conversation is excerpted below. Listen to the entire interview here.

 

What are you doing as you plan the future of Duke?

We traditionally produce energy in large-scale plants that distribute energy out to customers. In Florida, a large percentage of generation comes from burning natural gas. We’re doing some things in Florida to provide extra diversity of gas supplies. We’re also seeing the price of renewable energy going down. We are building 700 megawatts of large scale renewable power here in the state.

On the delivery side, the way power comes into your house, we are investing $1.1 billion in our energy grid. We are installing self-healing grids, which will detect faults and re-route the power to a safer more reliable grid. We’re also doing targeted undergrounding, for areas suffering from reliability problems as a result of trees coming down on the lines and areas that are hard to access. We are using data analytics to target those areas and then we’re trying to underground some of those areas.

There was a recent article in the New York Times critical of the way Florida utilities deal with solar power. Did you read that article?

I was disappointed in the piece. I don’t believe it contained the most up-to-date information on what we’re doing.

We have a renewable power services center and have increased the number of employees we have making those connections. That has happened over the last 18 months. We have shortened the period of time for customers who want to connect with solar panels onto our grid. We are connecting 700 customers a month onto our system who are using solar rooftop panels.

We also are putting universal solar onto our system. We’re installing large solar farms, which we believe are a much better economic cost-effective way for our customers to access solar power. Not everybody has the ability to invest capital for their own rooftop. Not everybody has the right house or even owns a house where they can have solar. We want to provide customers with renewable generation options. As we continue to build more of these solar plants in the State of Florida, more and more of their power will come from solar energy.

As Duke invests in solar and other projects, what’s the impact on rates?

When you look at the total bill and all of the investments … your total bill will rise less than the annual rate of inflation.

What makes the utility industry conducive to female leadership?

I think there are some exceptional women in leadership in the energy field, but I feel like we have a lot more to do. Our industry is about serving people. It’s almost a calling for the employees who work for my company. That sense of mission is not unique to women, but I do think a lot of women are looking for jobs that can be meaningful, and that’s right for me personally. I can go out every day and feel like I’m doing something to help people and to advance our communities.

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