Duke Settlement Restores 'Merger Of Equals'
When North Carolina utility regulators meet Monday at 10 a.m., they're expected to approve a settlement that resolves their investigation into the sudden firing of Progress CEO Bill Johnson shortly after the company merged with Duke.
The settlement calls for Duke CEO Jim Rogers to resign by the end of next year. Critics say the utilities commission is wasting time on personality clashes and power struggles surrounding Duke's leadership switch at the expense of more substantive aspects of the merger that might impact customers.
But Robert Gruber disagrees. He's executive director of the NC Utilities Commission Public Staff, which advocates for consumers.
"I think it matters that the utility be regulated - thoroughly regulated - and that public interest be protected," explains Gruber. "If they could do this with impunity without proper approval or consideration by the commission then we would worry about what else they might do – they could be too big to regulate."
Gruber says personnel changes required by the settlement will restore a balance of power between Duke and Progress. For example, Duke has pledged to put former Progress executive Lloyd Yates in charge of regulated utilities. That will make him second only to Jim Rogers on regulatory issues before the commission.
Gruber says the ouster of Bill Johnson as CEO turned the merger into a one-sided takeover.
"We believe that for the company to realize the full benefits of integrating the two companies it should have been done as a merger of equals as was originally represented to the commission," says Gruber.
While state utility regulators may end their investigation today, the North Carolina Attorney General's office did not agree to the settlement. Its investigation into the Duke/Progress merger is ongoing.