Sierra Club goes to Southern Company stockholder meeting

“Almost like a Berkshire-Hathaway meeting,” remarked SO CEO Tom Fanning after Sierra Club (and other) activists asked questions at the Southern Company stockholder meeting at Callaway Gardens yesterday, as promised by the numerous news stories the previous day after the press conference organized by Georgia Sierra Club Director Colleen Kiernan. As usual Fanning turned in a Class A CEO performance, although he seemed bemused by the diversity and sometimes very positive slant of the questions, which nonetheless brought up numerous problems with SO’s coal and nuclear agenda, lackluster renewable energy agenda, and the impending disruption of distributed solar power.

New rule this year: no unauthorized video or flash photography, posted on big signs outside the conference room door. SO CEO Tom Fanning I asked Georgia Power CEO Paul Bowers to authorize me, but he said it was a shareholder meeting and thus a different level. The person in charge of SO’s own videoing promised they’d be available on the web soon after the meeting. I told him I’d been checking since last year’s meeting, and those still weren’t on the web. He said they had been briefly; then they were taken down. But he would make them available. We’ll see…. Meanwhile, you only get this one picture of Tom Fanning (he insists everyone call him Tom) as he compared SO’s stock price to the only more stable company: Hormel. That’s right, SO is almost as stable as Spam. He looked at me rather pointedly as he announced that new rule. And rather wryly later when I pointed out that according to Edison Electric Institute SO’s business model was due for disruption very soon. More on that later, along with other reports on Wednesday’s meeting.

Walter C. Jones wrote for Morris News Service 21 May 2013, Southern Co. expects to face environmental challenges,

A dozen Sierra members who own stock in the giant electricity producer are primed to ask pointed questions about company policies, club officials told reporters Tuesday.

“I think tomorrow presents a really good opportunity for dialog,” said Colleen Kiernan, director of the Georgia Chapter of Sierra Club.

She said Southern’s board chairman and president, Tom Fanning, welcomes it.

“He really is open-minded and likes to hear from shareholders,” she said, calling the question session a way to “open executives’ minds to what people are thinking out there in the real world.”

After Colleen and Tom’s excellent adventure, some of the Sierra Club crew had lunch. Georgia Sierra Club Director Colleen Kiernan is second from the near end on the right. Sierra Club has been attending these meetings for years, but this year putting out a petition and doing a news conference beforehand got some pre-publicity. The petition was delivered during the meeting by Seth Gunning, pictured here on the left, third from the near end. Each signature online was also emailed directly to Tom Fanning, which appeared to get his attention.

Sierra Club lunch
Picture by John S. Quarterman for Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange (LAKE), Pine Mountain, Georgia, 22 May 2013.

Dave Williams wrote for the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Activist shareholders to grill Southern Co. execs on renewables,

Southern shareholders from Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi plan to raise concerns about the extent of the company’s pursuit of wind and solar power on Wednesday at its annual shareholder meeting….

But during a telephone news conference Tuesday, Kiernan said Georgia Power’s decision to spend more than $5 billion on technological improvements necessary to reduce pollution at several coal-fired power plants rather than retire them shows the utility isn’t ready to abandon an unhealthy source of energy.

“They’re not putting as much attention on real 21st century energy … as to holding on tightly to their traditional sources of nuclear and coal,” she said.

Southern CEO Tom Fanning disputed claims that the utility isn’t serious about renewable energy last week during a speech to the Atlanta Press Club. But he said the investments Southern makes in renewables must make economic sense for shareholders and ratepayers.

“If it works for our customers, we’ll do it,” he said. “But we’ve got to do it the right way.”

At the meeting, Fanning reiterated his position that solar might be ready by 2018 or maybe 2023, although he and other SO execs did announce some new developments, and (with a little prodding) they made it clear they are very aware of the disruptive challenge of distributed solar power. More later.

One difference from previous years was questioners from Alabama and Mississippi in addition to Georgia. Mary Perez wrote for the Biloxi-Gulfport Sun Herald 21 May 2013, Mississippi Power could be hot topic at Southern Co. stockholders’ meeting: Utility shareholders must foot bill for cost overruns,

Questions about the abrupt departure this week of Mississippi Power President Ed Day are likely to be asked during the annual meeting of Southern Co. stockholders today in Pine Mountain, Ga.

The meeting will start at 9 a.m. It will not be shown live but video will be posted later in the day.

Representatives of the Sierra Club said in a conference call Tuesday they will use the shareholders’ meeting as an opportunity to ask about the cost overruns at the power plant under construction in Kemper County and the leadership changes at Mississippi Power.

The meeting actually started as scheduled at 10AM, and I’m still looking for that video…. More reports will follow.

Update 2013-05-29: SO posted the video, albeit in a form that doesn’t allow linking to specific sections of it. More reports will follow.


4 thoughts on “Sierra Club goes to Southern Company stockholder meeting

  1. Pingback: Kemper Coal: SO’s bitter pill @ SO 2013-05-22 | On the LAKE front

  2. Diane Shearer

    Great job, John. Thanks for the photo and for pulling all these diverse sources of information together in one article.

  3. Pingback: Video of Southern Company shareholders meeting @ SO 2013-05-22 | On the LAKE front

  4. Pingback: Kemper Coal Crashes Southern Company Rating and Stock Price | On the LAKE front

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