Regulators reject NC WARN's case against Duke-Progress merger

Group seeking to undo Duke-Progress union says it will appeal

jmurawski@newsobserver.comDecember 10, 2012 

NC WARN, the lone holdout still fighting the merger between Progress Energy and Duke Energy, plans to ask the N.C. Court of Appeals for more hearings, new conditions and possibly a reversal of the $32 billion merger that created the nation’s largest electric utility.

Despite slim odds, the Durham advocacy group vowed to carry on in opposition, reaffirming its commitment Monday after the N.C. Utilities Commission rejected NC WARN’s claims that the two North Carolina companies hid crucial financial information to get their merger approved.

“The misinformation campaign continues,” Duke spokesman Mike Hughes said of NC WARN’s persistent efforts.

The Utilities Commission, which had previously approved the Progress-Duke merger with conditions, washed its hands of the matter, saying NC WARN’s logic was flawed and its arguments invalid.

“Not a bit surprising,” NC WARN director Jim Warren said of the Utilities Commission’s decision. “We’re heading to court.”

NC WARN had made five filings with the Utilities Commission in recent months to try to block the merger. The filings went largely unanswered as the agency conducted its own investigation, deciding earlier this month to impose addition conditions to preserve the corporate power balance between legacy Progress and Duke executives and board members.

NC WARN raised issues the commission deemed irrelevant, largely related to hidden nuclear costs, including the potential that it may cost $3.4 billion to fix the idled Crystal River nuclear plant in Florida, a Progress property.

“If they had disclosed Crystal River before the merger, it could have killed the deal,” Warren said. “The key thing is, we want to see all the numbers on the table.”

Warren said without a thorough public review of the new Duke Energy’s finances, the Charlotte-based power company could pad its expenses to raise rates on customers and reward its shareholders.

The Utilities Commission said costs in Florida will not be paid by customers in North Carolina. The commission also said many of the nuclear upgrades that NC WARN cites would have to be paid anyway, merger or not.

“Whether net costs go up or down post-merger is simply not the point,” the commission wrote. “The point is that other facts aside, the merger will produce costs to North Carolina ratepayers lower than they otherwise would be.”

Murawski: 919-829-8932

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