NC WARN had argued Duke Energy’s deal-making with large customers could be harming others and eroding the merger’s public-savings claims
Statement by Director Jim Warren:
Durham, NC – The NC Utilities Commission has ordered Duke Energy to unseal many of the 17 secret deals the utility used to gain large customers’ support for last month’s merger with Progress Energy. The Charlotte-based electricity giant, which vigorously fought against disclosure, has 10 days to comply with the order or contest it in a state appeals court.
NC WARN today applauds the Commission’s ruling. We appreciate that they carefully considered our arguments that Duke’s guarding of the deals violated the NC Public Records Act. We also appreciate that The News & Observer and other media outlets pressed for their release.
Assuming Duke complies with the order, we will review the deals to determine if other customers would be negatively impacted by the agreements, and whether the deals reduce the $650 million the merger is claimed to provide the public over six and a half years.
It appears that we will get to see six of the 17 agreements in their entirety, including those involving two large industrial customer groups. Most of the other deals will be partially unsealed, but the Commission allowed some wholesale customers to protect information that could harm them with competitors.
In short, the Commission did not accept Duke’s sweeping and vague claim that the 17 deals constituted “trade secrets.” On page 11 of the order, the Commission spelled out that settlement provisions involving retail rates are not trade secrets, nor are those that bind settling parties “to agree to take certain actions in regulatory or legal proceedings.”
NC WARN had argued that, rather than allowing anyone to obtain economic value from the disclosure of the settlement agreements, the “confidential” agreements may hide from public scrutiny a significant portion of the costs and benefits of the merger.
On a related note, the Commission has yet to rule on NC WARN’s motion seeking to reopen evidentiary hearings on the merger based on Duke’s failing to disclose billions in potential charges to ratepayers from at least two separate sources: improvements to Progress Energy’s nuclear power plants, and the repair of the broken containment building at the Crystal River nuclear plant in Florida.