By Bruce Henderson
More will be on the line than who’s in charge of the largest U.S. electric utility when Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers testifies Tuesday before the N.C. Utilities Commission.
The panel wants to know why, more than a year after being told that former Progress Energy chief Bill Johnson would lead the merged companies, he was apparently sacked soon after the deal closed.
Duke has said little about the hearing other than that Rogers, 64, a longtime CEO who has survived three mergers, will appear. But the company has every reason to cooperate.
State law gives the seven-member commission (one seat is vacant) authority to “rescind, alter or amend any order or decision” it has made. The commission approved the $32 billion merger on June 29.
It also decides whether to grant rate increases – both of Duke’s operating companies in the Carolinas plan to seek one this year – and at some point will be asked to let the two companies become one.
While it’s unlikely to try to dismantle a merger that took 18 months across a half-dozen jurisdictions to approve, observers say the commission could use its leverage to extract new conditions if it doesn’t like Rogers’ explanation.
“I don’t think the situation has ever come up before – there aren’t that many mergers” of N.C. utilities, said Raleigh attorney Ralph McDonald, who’s practiced before the commission since the late 1960s. “This is new ground.”