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Robert Trigaux

Was Bill Johnson's immediate ouster as CEO of new Duke-Progress giant due to bungled nuke plant?


Cause and effect? Did the failed do-it-yourself repair of the containment vessel surrounding the Crystal River nuclear power plant -- Progress Energy's sole nuke plant in the state of Florida -- ultimately lead to the booting of Bill Johnson? The photo above shows "delaminations" -- what Progress Energy once insisted the media call the big cracks visible in the photo -- that are now the focus of a giant repair bill likely to cost billions of dollars.

Johnson (below) was officially supposed to become CEO billjohnsonprogressenergyceo.jpgof the newly merged giant Duke Energy-Progress Energy. But the merged company's board, dominated by Duke board members, decided Monday evening to send Johnson packing into early retirement at age 58 and to name former Duke CEO Jim Rogers, 64, as both chairman and CEO of the new energy company.

The barrage of reporting, from the Charlotte Observer to CNBC coverage, has largely lacked much speculation on how Johnson, Progress Energy's former CEO, could be tossed aside at the very moment the new company passed final regulatory muster. Allow me to speculate.

The Crystal River plant, shuttered since fall 2009, is a big mess. Now Rogers -- not Johnson -- will have to decide how much time and money is it worth to the new Duke to try and fix the company's one and only nuclear power plant in the Sunshine State. Crystal River would only get fixed on the premise regulators would grant Duke an additional 20 years to run the nuclear plant, in addition to the 40 that the first generation plants in this country are allowed in their original licensing.

And if Duke decides not to revive Crystal River but rather decommission it? That carries costs, too, including finding a source to replace all that electricity the nuke plant once generated at a relatively low cost to the company.

My guess, and it is just a columnist's informed guess, is that the Duke directors got worried that the prolonged bungling of Progress Energy's nuclear operations in Florida (and that includes the still proposed but now overpriced Levy County nuclear power project) was a legacy of Johnson that the board did not want carrying over to the new company. Rogers, coming in fresh, so to speak, will have more latitude to give a new direction to the nuclear assets that stumbled on Progress Energy's watch in Florida, but now belong to Duke.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, Tampa Bay Times 






[Last modified: Tuesday, July 3, 2012 5:06pm]


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