Duke Energy’s recently named North Carolina president, David Fountain, will assume his role Tuesday overseeing 3.2 million customers and 13,000 employees from the Appalachian mountains to the Atlantic coast.
Fountain, 48, will be in charge of the single largest regional operation at Charlotte-based Duke, which is the nation’s largest electric utility company. Duke’s North Carolina business – including two utility subsidiaries: Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress – represents about half of Duke’s total footprint that also covers Florida, Kentucky and parts of the Midwest.
A lawyer with an MBA, Fountain has been with the company 15 years through three corporate incarnations. He joined Carolina Power & Light in 2000 when it was merging with Florida Progress and forming Raleigh-based Progress Energy. He also led the legal, regulatory and shareholder approval process for Progress when the Raleigh company was being acquired by Duke, a corporate marriage that was consummated three years ago.
Fountain, who is based in Raleigh, boiled down his corporate responsibilities to reliability and safety.
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“My job is to make sure the lights turn on,” Fountain said from his office in an interview last week. “We have tremendously dedicated employees who focus on keeping the lights on.”
Fountain replaces Paul Newton, 55, also a lawyer who had joined the company in 1990 through Duke Power, the electric utility subsidiary now called Duke Energy Carolinas. Newton became Duke’s North Carolina president in 2013 and retires Monday.
Fountain takes the helm at a critical time as Duke undertakes a multibillion dollar project of cleaning up more than 150 million tons of coal ash steeping at 14 sites in the state. These ash repositories have no liners and are contaminating local groundwater and some drinking wells.
The state legislature in 2014 directed Duke to move ash from four sites that lawmakers deemed high-priority to lined landfills by August 2019. Duke is reviewing which sites will require removal of the ash to off-site lined landfills and which sites can host lined lanfills.
Another challenge for Duke will be complying with the Environmental Protection Agency’s new carbon dioxide emissions standards, which are being fought by leaders of a number of states, including N.C. Governor Pat McCrory’s administration. It won’t be clear how the EPA’s standards will affect Duke until the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources resolves its dispute with the EPA.