Duke Energy makes second try at apology to NC regulators

Letter directed at Utilities Commission after marred merger

jmurawski@newsobserver.comDecember 11, 2012 

Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers is genuinely sorry – even if it’s hard to get the words out.

It took the Charlotte company two tries Tuesday to cough up the apology required by the N.C. Utilities Commission to end the agency’s investigation of its utility merger with Progress Energy.

It was a fitting end to a merger marred by mishaps.

Duke had agreed to submit a public statement of penance for the way it mishandled its merger with Progress and fired CEO-to-be Bill Johnson on the day the merger was completed. Lawyers at Duke and at the Utilities Commission had agreed on a draft of the letter.

Rogers submitted his letter Tuesday. Several hours later, however, the company was forced to submit a corrected version, this time adding two key words: “we apologize.”

“This was a draft mix-up at our end – we basically submitted the wrong draft,” said Duke spokesman Dave Scanzoni. “We caught the error.”

The goof-up reveals the touchiness that can hang on a single word when teams of lawyers, executives and spurned public officials are involved.

Attorneys for Duke and the Utilities Commission had been negotiating a settlement on and off throughout the commission’s five-month investigation.

In the end, both sides struck a truce and claimed victory, letting Duke apologize without yielding territory.

“Duke Energy is a company that can be trusted,” Rogers wrote in his letter. “We take our bond of trust with all regulators very seriously, and will work hard to continue to earn and maintain your trust.”

As part of the settlement finalized this month, Duke will pay $30 million to benefit North Carolina customers and Rogers will retire by the end of next year. The settlement also reassigns two top Duke executives to other roles.

Rogers’ letter also acknowledged that Duke’s “activities on this matter have fallen short of the Commission’s” expectations and standards. But Rogers makes no concessions on the hard-fought issue of Duke’s boardroom coup that cost Johnson his job.

The N.C. Utilities Commission had approved the $32 billion Duke-Progress merger just days before Johnson’s ouster, on June 29, with the understanding that Johnson would lead the combined company.

Johnson was formerly CEO at Progress and has since found another job running the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Rogers’ letter reaffirms Duke’s position, staunchly maintained all along: Johnson’s firing was unavoidable, and the company does not admit doing anything illegal or improper.

In the months that followed Johnson’s removal, Public Staff Director Robert Gruber had been publicly demanding Rogers’ ouster as a moral equalizer.

Gruber said Tuesday that Rogers’ letter signals that Duke and the commission have reconciled.

“They owed the commission an apology in plain English,” said Gruber, whose agency represents the public in utility rate cases. “I’m satisfied it brings closure to the matter.”

Murawski: 919-829-8932

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