As the largest electric power company in the United States, Duke Energy is at the forefront of new beginnings. We're investing in more efficient power plants, renewable energy, smart grid technologies, and innovative energy efficiency programs and services. But while Duke Energy is a company that knows where it is going, we're also one that never forgets the people and the events that got us where we are today.
Duke Energy's history began with the Catawba Power Company in the early 1900s. Three visionaries, Dr. W. Gill Wylie, James Buchanan Duke and William States Lee, founded the company to spur economic revival of the Carolina countryside. They felt the South's heavy dependence on agriculture was prohibiting growth of other industries. By developing an integrated electric system of hydro-powered generating stations, they envisioned linking customers by transmission lines – and creating new opportunities for economic growth.
They took the first big step toward this goal in 1904 when the first power plant, Catawba Hydro Station in South Carolina, began providing electricity to Victoria Cotton Mills in Rock Hill, S.C. Over the next several years, the company's hydroelectric fleet continued to grow to serve not only commercial textile mills, but the region's growing appetite for the conveniences that electricity could provide.
The company's leaders also felt strongly about giving back to the communities they served. Their strong philanthropic commitment advanced the region's quality of life by funding health care and education in the Carolinas. It's a tradition that lives on today. The Duke Energy Foundation supports education, health and human services, leadership development and volunteerism in the communities where Duke Energy operates.
The economic boom after World War II brought unprecedented demand for electric power. The thriving economy helped fuel demand for modern-day conveniences. Fancy refrigerators, range-top ovens and television sets became middle-class staples. The increased demand prompted a shift to coal-fired generation.
This era was a true boom time for energy-related industries. Tremendous expansion and growth occurred in electric and natural gas companies. Duke Power was no exception, and the company launched a massive construction program.
By the mid-1950s, Duke Power was looking ahead to nuclear power as a clean, safe and economical alternative for meeting growing electric energy needs. The first nuclear project, the Keowee-Toxaway Project, was launched in 1965. The project added the company's first nuclear plant and a pumped-storage hydro plant. The nuclear plant was completed in seven years – at a cost less than half the industry average. The project earned Duke Power its first of three Edison Awards, the power industry's highest honor.
After the 1979 Three Mile Island incident in Pennsylvania, Duke Power President Bill Lee led the creation of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, which strengthened and standardized the industry's nuclear safety and training programs. Lee again took the lead after the 1986 Chernobyl accident in the Soviet Union, when he organized the World Association of Nuclear Operators. Both organizations helped restore public confidence in nuclear power as a safe and plentiful source of energy.
The 1990s ushered in a trend to deregulate the natural gas industry in the United States, culminating in the “unbundling” of natural gas transportation, gathering and storage services from the government-regulated pipeline industry. PanEnergy Corp, a central player in the natural gas industry, quickly established a competitive position.
New gas generation technology brought unprecedented synergies for the electric and natural gas industries in the area of merchant generation. Duke Power developed a competitive mindset, and saw natural gas not as a competing fuel, but as an opportunity. Duke Power and PanEnergy merged in 1997 to create Duke Energy. The new company made energy, moved energy, managed energy and marketed energy. About this same time, The Cincinnati Gas & Electric Co. and PSI Energy Inc. merged in 1994 to form Cinergy Corp. Cinergy, a major energy player in the Midwest, served 1.5 million electric customers and about 500,000 gas customers in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.
In 2006, Duke Energy and Cinergy Corp. became one company. The company retained the Duke Energy name and expanded its service area into Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
On Jan. 3, 2007, Duke Energy spun off its natural gas business to form Spectra Energy. The new company's operations primarily included natural gas transmission, storage, distribution, gathering and processing. Since the spinoff, the majority of Duke Energy's revenue has come from its electric operations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana.
The early 21st century ushered in an era of transformation for the energy industry – and for the world. Standing at the forefront of innovation, Duke Energy targeted its focus on environmental and economic sustainability. Meanwhile, the Raleigh, N.C., based energy company Progress Energy adopted a similar focus, sharing Duke Energy's commitment to improving energy efficiency, developing renewable energy, keeping nuclear power a viable option, and modernizing existing power plants.
In 2012, Duke Energy and Progress Energy combined their companies, expanding Duke Energy's services to Florida and forming the largest electric utility in the United States. The new Duke Energy serves more than 7 million customers in six service territories. But “bigger” has never been Duke Energy's goal. Instead, the company is focused on being the best. The new Duke Energy has the size, scale and financial strength to modernize operations while holding down costs for its customers.
As Duke Energy moves forward, it is working to reduce the environmental impact of its existing plants, and investing in energy efficiency initiatives that can reduce the need to build new ones. The company is also developing smart grid technologies that will create a digital, interconnected network – giving customers new ways to save energy, money and the environment. And Duke Energy is investing in renewable energy sources, adding aggressively to its portfolio of wind and solar assets.
As the nation begins to recover from a stubborn recession, Duke Energy is also going to great lengths to attract businesses, help create jobs, and strengthen community vitality in the regions it serves.
Today, energy is about more than keeping the lights on. The 21st century electric company is a technology company disguised as a utility – identifying, integrating and scaling up new technologies that make electricity cleaner, more reliable and affordable. Duke Energy is poised as an industry leader in sustainable innovation, providing solutions that help its customers and communities thrive and grow.