Watchdog Group Calls For New Hearings In Duke Merger
The outspoken watchdog group NC WARN has begun a legal effort to have state regulators retract approval of the merger between Duke and Progress Energy. The North Carolina Utilities Commission is already taking a second look at the Duke/ Progress merger in light of the company's last-minute change of CEO. But NC WARN would like the whole thing reopened, which would force Duke to justify the merger again, and give regulators the option of rejecting it. NC WARN executive director Jim Warren maintains Duke Energy hid its plan to spend $2.2 billion upgrading Progress Energy's nuclear plants. That's money the company would look to recover from ratepayers. "The billions in undisclosed rate hikes turns this merger into a net public soaking instead of the net public savings that is legally required of such a public merger," says Warren. The $2.2 billion Duke will spend over the next few years repairing and upgrading Progress nuclear plants was first reported last Friday in the Triangle Business Journal. But Duke spokesman Tom Williams says the figure is not new. "These budget numbers were prepared by Progress months ago and they're to do things like buried pipe upgrades, fire protection upgrades, turbine control upgrades," says Williams. "This is regular on-going maintenance that would happen at a large facility." Williams says the details of that spending may not have been revealed previously, but the total figure is included in Progress Energy's capital budget, which was disclosed to regulators. NC WARN's legal filing is just the latest in a string of setbacks for the new Duke Energy. Both the North Carolina Attorney General and Utilities Commission are investigating the surprise ouster of Progress CEO Bill Johnson. Potential repercussions of that scandal led Standard & Poors to downgrade Duke's credit rating this week.