The N.C. Society of Engineers' winner of this year's Outstanding Engineer award goes to a Raleigh energy executive who will help lead the nation's biggest electric utility company.
Lloyd Yates, 50, is also the first black engineer to win the Outstanding Engineer award since the professional society began giving out its annual award in 1937.
Yates, currently President and CEO of Progress Energy Carolinas, oversees the Raleigh-based power company's operations for 1.4 million customers in the two states.
Last week, Progress CEO Bill Johnson put Yates in charge of Customer Operations for an expanded Duke Energy, the Charlotte utility that announced Jan. 10 that it's merging with Progress to form the nation's biggest utility company with 7.1 million customers.
Johnson will be CEO of Duke once the merger is completed. Yates' selection to the executive team signifies he's one of Johnson's trusted associates. Duke has named five of its executives to the combined senior executive team.
The N.C. Society of Engineers gave the award to Yates on Saturday, independently of the Duke-Progress merger announcement, said Charles "Jerry" Letchworth, a society board member. The award, which is given to engineers who make an impact on the state, recognizes Yates' achievements at Progress.
"The beauty of this job is that I get to pick the great ideas," Yates said. "I'd like to think that I was smart enough to help the company capitalize on its great ideas."
Yates started with Progress in 1998 as vice president of fossil generation and has been promoted three times to his current position. He previously worked 16 years for PECO Energy Co. in Pennsylvania.
"When they rise that high in a company that large, that's an outstanding achievement," said Letchworth, who had worked at Progress 31 years until he retired a decade ago.
Yates has an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh and an MBA from Saint Joseph's University.
In nominating Yates for the award, Progress described him as a "prime mover" in developing strategies to wean Progress off coal-burning power plants.
Progress is retiring four coal plants (that's 11 units) in North Carolina by end of 2014. The company is building natural gas plants in Wayne and New Hanover counties to make up the capacity.
The advantage of natural gas is that it has about half the greenhouse gas emissions of coal, and it emits virtually no mercury, a potent neurotoxin.