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Jim Rogers, Duke Energy executive who promoted clean energy, dies at 71

Mr Rogers supported a cap-and- trade approach to reduce carbon emissions.

Washington, DC

JIM Rogers, the former chief executive of Duke Energy who became one of the first prominent energy industry officials to recognise the threat of climate change and argue that it should be addressed through federal policy, died on Dec 17 at a hospital in Louisville, where he was visiting family. He was 71.

The cause was sepsis, said his longtime Duke spokesman, Tom Williams.

Mr Rogers, a lawyer by training and a policy person at heart, became chief executive of Duke Energy in 2006, having spent 18 years at the helm of three other utilities. The second, Cinergy, was merged into Duke.

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Duke Energy then became one of the country's biggest utilities with interests in coal, natural gas and nuclear power, and it became a public policy platform for Mr Rogers, who helped bring the Democratic National Convention to Duke's hometown of Charlotte in 2012.

Seeing tougher restrictions on coal as inevitable, he broke taboos in the utility industry and became a supporter of a cap-and-trade approach that President Barack Obama favoured to reduce carbon emissions.

During negotiations over the cap-and-trade bill that ultimately passed the House but failed in the Senate, Mr Rogers frequently told audiences and reporters that "if we are not at the table, we will be on the menu, and I intend to be at the table."

Jason Bordoff, founding director of Columbia University's global energy policy centre and former National Security Council senior director for energy and climate under Obama, said that Mr Rogers "saw the potential for clean electricity sources like renewables earlier than many of his peers."

Mr Bordoff also said that Mr Rogers was "a key member of the US Climate Action Partnership that developed a template for the climate legislation passed by the House of Representatives."

Since Mr Rogers became its chief executive, Duke Energy has invested more than US$4 billion on wind and solar power projects. But he came under criticism from environmental groups because he favoured a gradual transition away from coal. They also contended that he had not moved fast enough to shut down coal plants or to clean up the coal ash waste that had built up over decades.

That corporate legacy surfaced recently after the rains from Hurricane Florence led to a Duke coal ash facility overflowing its banks and into the Cape Fear River.

After retiring in 2013, his next act was as a director and fundraiser for institutions including the Nature Conservancy.

He also wrote a book, Lighting The World, which offered pragmatic solutions that the public and private sectors could use to lift the world's poorest people out of poverty.

Climate change hung over his career at Duke. "I believe in global warming," he told comedian Stephen Colbert in a 2009 interview.

But Mr Rogers favoured a search for ways to extract carbon dioxide from the exhaust of coal plants, a costly technology that is still being researched. He told Colbert he hoped to "decarbonise" the fleet of coal plants, not junk it.

Though a supporter of nuclear power, Mr Rogers also said it was too expensive to "bet the farm" on it. He compared the site of an abandoned nuclear plant with the set of a Mad Max movie.

In a 2011 interview with The Washington Post, Mr Rogers said that "the only approach to address the carbon issue (is one) that allows us to successfully reduce emissions in a way that is fair and allows us to transition to a (less carbon-intensive) world".

By that time, especially with the surge of cheap shale gas, Duke had sped up the retirement of coal plants. Today, one of the final new coal plants to go online in the United States is named for him. Because it is relatively new, Duke doesn't expect to close it until 2048. WP