By Bruce Henderson
The chief executives of Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas will testify as the N.C. Utilities Commission opens a hearing Monday on Duke’s $4.9 billion acquisition of its Charlotte neighbor.
Attorneys for environmental advocates will be allowed to cross-examine Duke CEO Lynn Good and Piedmont’s Thomas Skains.
Advocates say Duke relies too heavily on fossil fuels, including natural gas, and is too close to regulators in the administration of Gov. Pat McCrory, a former Duke employee. Duke and the governor’s office deny any favoritism.
Hundreds of form letters organized by Greenpeace and submitted to the commission ask it to reject a deal that is “bad for business, bad for the future of North Carolina, and bad for our democracy.”
Duke and Piedmont will present their merger as good for customers.
Under an agreement with the state’s independent Public Staff, which represents consumers, Piedmont will cut $10 million from customer bills in North Carolina this year. The combined companies will also make $70 million in charitable donations over four years and offer $7.5 million in aid to low-income customers.
A utility’s agreement with the influential Public Staff usually leads to shorter hearings and commission approval, although some details may be changed. The commission often invites comment from all parties before making significant rulings.
The Durham advocacy group NC WARN filed a petition last week asking the commission to halt “backroom deals.” WARN wants the commission to require that settlement negotiations be open to all parties to a case, and to stop agreements from being reached until a public hearing has been held.