By John Murawski
RALEIGH — Last year’s merger between Progress Energy and Duke Energy came back to haunt Progress on Monday as critic after critic grilled company executives on sweetheart deals designed to spare large utility customers a rate increase.
Progress, which promised its industrial customers price breaks worth millions of dollars in exchange for supporting its $32 billion merger with Duke, faced stinging criticism for those deals during the first day of rate hearings before the N.C. Utilities Commission.
The Raleigh utility is seeking its first base rate hike in a quarter century, but much of the discussion Monday was about the secret deals. If approved by the Utilities Commission, the requested discounts for industrial customers would come at the expense of other customers who would have to make up the difference.
The deals were never meant to be public because Duke and Progress considered them to contain “trade secrets.” But the N.C. Utilities Commission, in response to a request from media outlets and Durham advocacy group NC WARN, unsealed the files last year, erasing any tactical advantage Progress would have gained from their secrecy.