Thoughts on the Duke Energy Scandal
If Progress board members are correct that Bill Johnson performed well and with respect toward his employees (per today’s News & Observer story and earlier comments), it fortifies my belief that Crystal River was the main point of dispute that led to his firing.
I also suspect Johnson might have recoiled over Duke plans to remediate the rest of the Progress nuclear fleet — a shot to the corporate pride, and a stark departure from Progress’ approach to nuclear maintenance. Those problems have ranged over decades, and NC WARN has many times exposed and criticized Progress’ cost-cutting culture at nuclear plants.
Crystal River alone is a huge and embarrassing mistake, where Progress ignored vigorous warnings and tried to cut corners, causing one of the worst blunders in US nuclear history. It will likely continue to be an embarrassing and costly drain on Duke for years, with frequent challenges and the ongoing potential for bad press. We should remember that Johnson personally signed off on the corner-cutting plan.
Also, to the extent Johnson’s management style was a problem, it’s more likely that Duke’s employees are the ones who had trouble with him as they neared falling under his command, particularly relating to the issues noted above. If Rogers testified accurately, the “culture” problems connect with the April-May timeframe when Crystal River grew as a disputed problem, as Duke’s secret study results began coming in.
I strongly disagree with all the speculation about Rogers simply changing his mind and deciding he’d rather remain as CEO. He was set for an amazingly cushy and prestigious “Executive Chairman” post from which he could travel, speak, and schmooze with the powerful — the things he clearly relishes — while leaving Johnson with the detail work and heavy lifting.
My best guess is that Rogers will be vindicated on most of the public charges, though possibly muddied or worse from new information that might come forward. I’m betting he is way too smart to have made statements Tuesday that could lead to perjury charges. I doubt he was entirely out of the loop in the firing of Johnson, but I bet there’s no paper trail that refutes his story.
We again encourage Attorney General Cooper, the Utilities Commission and news media to pursue the Crystal River and nuclear fleet issues, thus whether the merger meets the primary requirement that it provide a net benefit to the public. The dramas about Raleigh-versus-Charlotte and whether Duke mistreated Johnson are secondary issues at best.
Unless the investigators flinch, we think it will be shown that Duke should have disclosed the enormous nuclear problems much earlier, which could lead to rollback of the merger.
By the way, the potential rollback would make another interesting news story rather than just accepting opinions about its difficulty. It would be quite an accounting challenge, but it would keep a lot of fine employees on the payroll instead of on the street.
Increasingly, people in all Duke-Progress states realize it is their money that supports this out-of-touch energy empire, and our demand for energy decentralization, democracy, competition and a sustainable path forward will continue to grow stronger.