By Ivan Penn
It was a marriage proposal made in utility heaven: Progress Energy and Duke Energy joining to form the nation’s biggest power company.
Then came the suspicions. Did Duke know everything it needed to about its partner-to-be? Was Progress holding back about its Florida nuclear troubles?
The marriage went forward last week, but with a major twist.
The merger agreement called for Bill Johnson, the head guy at Progress, to take over as CEO of the new Duke Energy. And on Monday, when the merger was completed, he did.
For not even a day.
Then the board forced him out.
Duke officials aren’t saying what happened or why Johnson, so central to a merger 18 months in the planning, was hastily cast aside.
But critics quickly connected the dots. They pointed to Progress Energy’s broken Crystal River nuclear plant and suggestions that Duke was unhappy to learn too late the extent of its troubles.
“It’s got to be Crystal River,” said Jim Warren, executive director of the watchdog group NC WARN, which opposed the merger. “It’s got to be related to the fact that (Johnson) understated the problem.”
So what does it mean for the future of the Crystal River plant?
More than ever, its days may be numbered.