Business & Economy
5:00 am
Tue September 20, 2011

Duke/Progress Merger Faces Public Hearing

The North Carolina Utilities Commission will hear testimony Tuesday on the proposed merger of Duke Energy and Progress Energy. The Commission will hear from company officials in favor and from environmental groups opposed to the merger. Tom Williams is a spokesman for Duke Energy.

Tom Williams: "The main purview of the commission is to look at customer savings. They're out to ensure that customers are not adversely impacted by our merger and ultimately if there's some savings that can come from it, which we're demonstrating from this. It'll be a give-and-take discussion with the commission and we look forward to telling our story."
But the Utilities Commission on Monday denied the utilities a motion to strike testimony about the broader economic impact to North Carolina from the hearing. That's according to Giselle Rankin, the Utility Commission's Public Staff attorney. Stephen Smith, Executive Director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, called that good news for the people of North Carolina. He says people need to pay attention to what's happening.

Stephen Smith: "This is a very, very big deal because most people are connected to the electricity that's going to come from this new company, and we need to figure out how that plays forward."
The merger would create the largest utility in the U-S with over 7 million customers in six states. Will Morgan of the Sierra Club says the new company could take two different approaches.

Will Morgan: "One, it could continue to head down a path of producing electricity through coal and other fossil fuels. Or it could encourage more investments in renewable energy and we're just worried that the new company could crowd out all the renewable energy jobs that are popping up all over North Carolina."
Williams says Duke and Progress are committed to supporting renewable energy generation in the state...

Williams: "At a certain level... to go beyond that level, renewable energy has to compete with any type of energy source. Duke or Progress today can't go out and build a power plant unless it's a least cost sort of thing to do."
The companies need approval from the Utilities Commission in order for the merger to take place. One of the issues expected to be discussed is job losses. The companies are expected to cut around 2,000 jobs if the merger takes effect. Tom Williams is a spokesman for Duke Energy.

Williams: "I would say that both Duke and Progress have long offered voluntary packages to employees and we found that we had the reduced workforce. And we're doing that again this year and it's a pretty generous package and many employees may find they're ready to leave. We hope to avoid forced layoffs. It's our full intent to avoid layoffs, but we can't rule those out."

Interview with Giselle Rankin, NC Utilities Commission Public Staff Attorney, Duke Energy spokesman Tom Williams, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Executive Director Stephen Smith, and a statement from Will Morgan, Sierra Club's Director of Government Relations.