Weak Economic Growth for Years: Duke Energy CEO

Duke Energy reported better-than-expected earnings this morning, but James Rogers, Duke's chairman, president and chief executive, told CNBC Tuesday that economic growth will be anemic over the next four or five years.

"Utility sales, particularly electric sales, are a good indicator of where the economy is going, and it's usually a leading indicator," Rogers said. "So in a sense we think it’s going to be steady progress, but it’s going to be very slow."

Duke's earnings in the second quarter were up 30 percent over last year's quarter, but stripping out the effects of extremely hot weather on the bottom line, earnings were really up 20 percent, Rogers said. The growth mainly came from a 12 percent boost in industrial sales, as well as operations and maintenance cost controls, he said.

While Rogers doesn't forecast a double-dip recession, he said continuing sluggish economic growth will "feel like" a double-dip. Industrial sales at Duke were higher last quarter, but commercial and residential sales were flat, and Rogers said Duke doesn't expect to return to 2007-level sales until 2014 or 2015.

While legislation to cap carbon dioxide emissions isn't on the table right now, Rogers said the EPA will begin regulating carbon on Jan. 2, 2011, and how those regulations will affect Duke's coal plants remains a big question.

"As we look ahead, we have great uncertainty with respect to finding a way to retire, replace or retrofit our units in a way to minimize the cost impact on consumers; and maybe more importantly, smooth that cost impact out over the next decade," Rogers said.

Rogers also said he advocates keeping the dividend tax rate at 15 percent. "We believe to raise the capital to retrofit our plants for the new regulations, or to retire or replace these plants, having a low tax on the dividend makes sense."