By Michael Eads
Reactions to Duke Energy’s $4.9 billion takeover of Piedmont Natural Gas are skewing mostly to wait-and-see at this point. But at least one Duke watcher has some concerns.
The Charlotte-based energy giant announced Monday it will add 1 million Piedmont customers in South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee to go with its 7.3 million electricity and 500,000 natural gas customers. The deal requires regulatory approval in North Carolina. Duke has to consult with Tennessee and South Carolina officials, but they don’t have authority to stop the deal.
“I think Duke will want to consult with us as a courtesy; they have always been more than willing to work with us,” said C. Dukes Scott, who oversees the regulatory staff for South Carolina’s Public Service Commission.
All three states have to approve the utility rates charged to homes and businesses, but some worry that a bigger Duke will have an easier time getting its way in Raleigh, Columbia and Nashville.
“That’s more political influence and pressure for them,” said Frank Holleman, who helped convince Duke last year to clean up its coal ash ponds on the banks of the Saluda River in Anderson County.
Another environmental advocate, Jim Warren of NC WARN, questioned how much more influence Duke would get with state regulators and politicians through the deal. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is a retired Duke executive. Catherine Heigel, another former Duke executive, was tapped six months ago to run South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control — one of two state agencies with regulatory power over Duke.