Utility says regulators must delay action on re-opening merger hearings, while still avoiding key questions about billions in planned charges to customers
Statement by Executive Director Jim Warren
Durham, NC – In a legal motion filed Friday, Duke Energy has now formally declined to put to rest allegations that it hid billions in planned rate hikes until after its takeover of Progress Energy was approved last month. The filing was a response to watchdog group NC WARN’s July 26th move for the N.C. Utilities Commission to re-open evidentiary hearings and to compel Duke to produce documents relating to the planned rate hikes.
NC WARN will file a formal response with the N.C. Utilities Commission soon, but below are some initial thoughts.
Duke’s position reaffirms NC WARN’s case that the company simply has no valid grounds for having withheld plans to charge customers over $2 billion by 2014 in power plant upgrades, and for hiding the true costs of repairing or retiring the broken Crystal River nuclear plant.
If Duke could explain why $2.2 billion in capital investments for the Progress nuclear fleet – equaling roughly $2.5 billion in rate hikes – showed up in a Duke Energy document only after merger approval, it would have done so by now.
As to PR claims that such spending is “routine,” if Duke could provide evidence that the plant upgrades would have happened even without the merger, it would have done so by now, either for the news media, the Commission, or to NC WARN – which on two separate paths is urging the Commission to compel Duke to provide such evidence.
If Duke could answer – instead of dodge – NC WARN’s questions, it would avoid further fighting on a path that’s heading toward the N.C. Court of Appeals, if necessary.
Instead, in its motion on Friday, Duke argues that NC WARN’s case for re-opening merger hearings is premature because the Commission’s investigation will be lengthy.
Note that the Commission has not signaled that its investigation will extend beyond Duke’s failure to tell commissioners in advance about CEO Bill Johnson’s firing. To reiterate: That question does not relate to the Commission’s core duty – to ensure that the merger contains a net benefit to the public.
By contrast, both the fleet upgrades and the Crystal River billions do indeed impact electric ratepayers – and would far outstrip the “nearly a buck a month” Duke boasts the merger is now providing to households.
NOTE: Duke’s prodigious new image ad campaign was predictable, as it continues a years-long business model of spreading around millions of dollars to mute public, political and media scrutiny of its actions. With ads running even during nightly newscasts, I hope news editors and directors will agree that Duke Energy deserves vigilant oversight.