Utility lawyer suggests environmental groups use double standards

STAFF WRITERSeptember 22, 2011 

— The proposed merger between Duke Energy and Progress Energy would shift benefits to Wall Street at the expense of the environment and the state's poor, an environmental representative warned utilities regulators today. Analyst Richard Hahn told the N.C. Utilities Commission that the electric companies should be required to offset the economic damage they will cause by eliminating 2,000 jobs. But the utilities accused Hahn and his clients of a double-standard in their concern for jobs and the economy. Hahn is representing the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, among other groups. "Would it surprise you to know that Progress Energy is going through a coal-to-gas conversion and the natural gas power plants will require fewer employees to run?" asked utility lawyer Len Anthony. "The environmental community didn't object when we were reducing jobs to reduce emissions." Progress will eliminate about 250 positions as it shuts down older, coal-burning power plants in this state and builds plants that burn natural gas, the cleanest burning fossil fuel that reduces greenhouse gas emissions by half and virtually eliminates mercury, a potent neurotoxin. The conflict between jobs and corporate streamlining is at the heart of the $26 billion merger the N.C. Utilities Commission is reviewing on what is likely the last day of public hearings in Raleigh. The commission's standard for approving utility mergers is that the public benefits should outweigh risks and costs. The Duke-Progress merger is one of the most important cases the commission has considered in decades. "The merger should be expressly conditioned to avoid creating winners and losers," Hahn told the seven commissioners, who are appointed by the governor. "It's not clear that North Carolina will enjoy benefits commensurate with the expected costs. North Carolina would be particularly hard hit by merger-related job losses." Charlotte-based Duke and Raleigh-based Progress are planning to create the nation's biggest utility that would span six states, with operations in the Midwest, Southwest and Latin America. The companies expect to pay out several hundred million dollars in severance costs to laid off workers and those who take buyouts, and the companies plan to ask that those costs be paid by customers in their monthly bills. Critics of the merger say the companies should compensate for the costs by requiring a greater emphasis on green energy programs. They say such programs would lead to job creation and cleaner air. But those programs also would increase customers rates, erasing some of the benefits of the merger. Duke and Progress executives have said that corporate efficiencies achieved by the merger will help hold down rate increases in the future.

The proposed merger between Duke Energy and Progress Energy would shift benefits to Wall Street at the expense of the environment and the state's poor, an environmental representative warned utilities regulators today. Analyst Richard Hahn told the N.C. Utilities Commission that the electric companies should be required to offset the economic damage they will cause by eliminating 2,000 jobs. But the utilities accused Hahn and his clients of a double-standard in their concern for jobs and the economy. Hahn is representing the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, among other groups. "Would it surprise you to know that Progress Energy is going through a coal-to-gas conversion and the natural gas power plants will require fewer employees to run?" asked utility lawyer Len Anthony. "The environmental community didn't object when we were reducing jobs to reduce emissions." Progress will eliminate about 250 positions as it shuts down older, coal-burning power plants in this state and builds plants that burn natural gas, the cleanest burning fossil fuel that reduces greenhouse gas emissions by half and virtually eliminates mercury, a potent neurotoxin. The conflict between jobs and corporate streamlining is at the heart of the $26 billion merger the N.C. Utilities Commission is reviewing on what is likely the last day of public hearings in Raleigh. The commission's standard for approving utility mergers is that the public benefits should outweigh risks and costs. The Duke-Progress merger is one of the most important cases the commission has considered in decades. "The merger should be expressly conditioned to avoid creating winners and losers," Hahn told the seven commissioners, who are appointed by the governor. "It's not clear that North Carolina will enjoy benefits commensurate with the expected costs. North Carolina would be particularly hard hit by merger-related job losses." Charlotte-based Duke and Raleigh-based Progress are planning to create the nation's biggest utility that would span six states, with operations in the Midwest, Southwest and Latin America. The companies expect to pay out several hundred million dollars in severance costs to laid off workers and those who take buyouts, and the companies plan to ask that those costs be paid by customers in their monthly bills. Critics of the merger say the companies should compensate for the costs by requiring a greater emphasis on green energy programs. They say such programs would lead to job creation and cleaner air. But those programs also would increase customers rates, erasing some of the benefits of the merger. Duke and Progress executives have said that corporate efficiencies achieved by the merger will help hold down rate increases in the future.

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