Progress Energy, Duke Energy sure know how to make investigations of their bungling disappear
The Crystal River nuclear power plant was broken years ago but Progress Energy's off the hook to explain how and why it broke it in now-canceled public hearings in Florida. Duke Energy, now Progress Energy's parent, just made a North Carolina investigation of its botched merger with Progress go away. (Photo: Progress Energy.) Read on!
Wake up and good morning. Ever notice how big utilities are so good at convincing weak-kneed regulators from ever actually completing any investigation of wrongdoing of power companies?
Progress Energy was good at it. Duke Energy, its new owner, may be even better. Admittedly, I am appalled.
Progress Energy pulled a coup in January of this year. In exchange for refunding its customers in Florida $288 million they paid in extra charges after the utility botched its do-it-yourself repair on the Crystal River 3 nuclear power plant in Citrus County, Florida regulators agreed to drop planned public hearings on why a routine fix-it job at the nuke plant ended up costing $2.5 billion.
In simpler terms, Progress Energy simply returned some excess funds it already had siphoned from customers and was suddenly off the hook for any public accountability over what the heck happened at the Crystal River nuclear plant. That plant, by the way, was shut down in 2009 and remains closed today. That's more than three years of a nuclear power plant failing to deliver any electricity to customers.
Florida regulators at the Public Service Commission think they worked magic in getting a refund to customers. Wrong. They allowed a monopoly provider of electricity to hide its incompetence in handling the one and only nuclear power plant serving this west central part of Florida. Read more here in the Tampa Bay Times.
Ah, Progress Energy's new parent, Duke Energy, may put Progress Energy's "pay no attention to our bungling behind the curtain" act in the shade.
This week, North Carolina-based Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers (photo, right), wrote a "contrite" letter to the N.C. Utilities Commission (that state's version of our PSC) and apologized for Duke's public criticism that the commission's investigation of the Duke-Progress Energy merger was inappropriate.
That letter was filed Tuesday this week and was required under a settlement agreement ending the probe that the commission verbally approved last week. "Duke Energy is a company that can be trusted," Rogers wrote. Read more in this Charlotte Observer coverage.
So, voila! In 2012, two major government oversight investigations in Florida and North Carolina against the same power company's questionable actions were snuffed. No muss. No fuss.
Bravo, Florida PSC!. Kudos, N.C. regulators! Now it is perfectly clear who really calls the shots when it comes to running the electricity business. It's paper-regulator theater at its best.
This year's score: Duke-Progress 2. Customers, zilch.
-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, Tampa Bay Times