By John Downey
Environmental watchdog group NC WARN wants North Carolina’s attorney general to investigate whether Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers improperly negotiated directly with N.C. Utilities Commission Chairman Ed Finley to settle the commission’s inquiry into Duke’s $32 billion purchase of Progress Energy.
Bob Gruber, head of the commission’s public staff, says the allegations of impropriety are mistaken. He says there were three meetings involving Rogers, Finley and former Progress board member Jim Hyler in the month leading up to the settlement, which was announced in late November.
Gruber attended all three, and he says he has been told the N.C. attorney general’s office also was invited, although no representative attended.
“The purpose of my being invited was to make sure it was not an improper ex parte meeting,” he says. He notes the commission, Duke, the public staff and the AG’s office were the only parties to the proceedings. All the meetings, he said, were with the participation or at least the knowledge of all the parties.
NC WARN Director Jim Warren says Gruber is “entitled to his opinion,” but his group would still like a ruling from the attorney general. He says there are legitimate questions to be raised about the propriety of having Finley, who would have to vote on the settlement, as a party to the negotiations.
He likened the situation to direct contacts top Duke executives had with former Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission Chairman David Hardy over the company’s controversial gasified-coal plant in Edwardsport, Ind. Those contacts led to Hardy being dismissed from the commission in 2010. Questions about improper contacts with Hardy and others also led to the 2010 resignation of Jim Turner, who ran Duke’s regulated utilities at the time.