Statement by NC WARN Executive Director Jim Warren:
The recent decision by the new Duke Energy Board of Directors to oust former Progress Energy CEO Bill Johnson from the position as the CEO of the merged company within hours of the merger demands a serious investigation. This company will control the electric energy future of North Carolina and the electric rates of millions of people. The NC Utilities Commission, the Public Staff, the employees, and the consumers of the state were assured repeatedly that the merged company would have shared leadership with Mr. Johnson as CEO. Instead, they got a coup d’état.
NC Utilities Commissioner Bryan Beatty has been quoted as saying yesterday that the Commission has the authority to review its decision on the merger, convene a public hearing, and call Duke officials to testify about the move. It should do so.
NC WARN, as an intervener in the merger, tried repeatedly to get the Commission to review new circumstances impacting the merger since the original hearing in September. One of those new circumstances is the multibillion dollar cost of repairing Progress’s Crystal River nuclear plant in Florida. We reported that Duke Energy’s board had conducted its own study of that liability. We don’t know if that issue was a cause or pretext for forcing Mr. Johnson out, but it certainly could impact the costs and benefits of the merger for consumers as well as stockholders.
There has been far too much secrecy in this merger. We are pursuing exposure of the deals that Duke cut with big wholesale customers to assure that they would not oppose the merger.The secrecy around what apparently was a planned corporate coup and the Crystal River cost issue is entirely inappropriate for a regulated utility and is not in the public interest. It is incumbent upon the NC Utilities Commission to open a public investigation and public hearings to get to the bottom of it, and, on the basis of its findings, decide whether to revisit its decision on the merger.