Southern Company shareholders cast a substantial vote of no confidence in chief executive officer Tom Fanning at the annual shareholders’ meeting near Atlanta May 24th, while almost half the company’s shares were cast in favor of steering the company toward climate-friendly energy policies.
The vote against approving the executive compensation package for Fanning and Southern’s leadership team was 39 percent – a very high rate of disapproval, putting Fanning among the bottom five in compensation votes for Fortune 500 companies, according to Rosanna Landis Weaver, a CEO compensation expert with the non-profit As You Sow.
“Southern shareholders are clearly very dissatisfied. I think the enormous problems at the Kemper and Vogtle plants played into that,” said Weaver, referring to the years-long delays and huge budget overruns at Southern’s two flagship energy facilities, the still-incomplete Vogtle nuclear plant, and the Kemper “clean coal” power plant in eastern Mississippi, which still doesn’t operate after a year of false starts, and which Southern admits will probably never actually burn coal.
The 46 percent of shares cast for the climate proposal was at least as remarkable as the compensation outcome – twelve percent higher than last year’s tally for an identical measure, which was the first time it was on the proxy ballot.
The climate proposal calls for Southern to issue a report on its plans for “aligning its operations with the IEA 2 degree scenario,” which refers to the target of preventing more than a two-degree Celsius rise in the earth’s temperature, the point at which some scientists believe irreversible, catastrophic climate impacts become inevitable.
A press release on the ballot measure, put up by the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment, led by the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, New Jersey, noted that Southern is one of the highest emitters of greenhouse gases in the United States.
Clean energy activists were charged up by the vote.
“It’s astounding,” said Sam Collier, a Sierra Club member who attended the shareholder’s meeting. “It shows that there’s a lot of concern over where Southern fits into a carbon-limited future.”
Southern spokesman Schuyler Baehman said the company has no comment on the shareholder votes.
The negative attention Southern has received on Kemper and Vogtle – which has included a credit downgrade of operating subsidiary Mississippi Power, owner of Kemper, to junk bond status, and a warning in April that Georgia Power, Vogtle’s majority owner, could suffer the same fate – somehow has yet to catch up with Fanning.
Nor has the fact that Fanning admitted recently that he doesn’t believe in human-caused climate change, making his promotion of the Kemper plant as a clean coal facility all the more puzzling.
“How can a guy who doesn’t believe in climate science be in charge of this giant energy company and expect investors to trust him? It makes no sense,” said Weaver.