Duke Energy officially arrives in Florida with iron fist

Jeff Davidson of Davidson Sign Services of Safety Harbor installs a Duke Energy sign on the company’s office building at 299 First Ave. N in St. Petersburg on Monday as a co-worker assists from behind the wall.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times

Jeff Davidson of Davidson Sign Services of Safety Harbor installs a Duke Energy sign on the company’s office building at 299 First Ave. N in St. Petersburg on Monday as a co-worker assists from behind the wall.

Now that the Duke Energy name officially replaced Progress Energy atop its Florida headquarters in St. Petersburg …

Now that protesters gather today in Charlotte, N.C., at Duke's annual shareholders meeting to condemn its repeated rate hikes …

And now that Duke is resisting any effort to have shareholders pay for the botched project that led to the Crystal River nuclear plant fiasco …

Maybe it's past time to ask: What do we really know about this new power company?

Here are 10 observations.

10. No question, Duke is smarter, more Darwinian and more politically connected than Progress Energy, which bought St. Petersburg-based Florida Progress in 2000 and lasted a dozen years before being picked off by Duke.

9. After Progress Energy bought Florida Progress in 2000, it quickly sought big rate cuts in Florida. Not Duke. It wants rate hikes and new fees to cover big costs ahead, including the decommissioning of the defunct Crystal River nuclear power plant.

8. Duke managed to defer its 2012 federal income taxes, despite profits of $1.8 billion.

7. How big is Duke? Try enormous. Its market value hovers near $53 billion. The hefty South Florida parent of Florida Power & Light is worth just $35 billion. Tampa's TECO Energy trails behind at a mere $4 billion.

6. Duke offered no compromise to Citrus County, low-balling its $35 million county tax bill by paying $19 million and suing Citrus over the rest.

5. Not one of Duke Energy's directors is from its Florida service territory, so nobody on the board really represents the local concerns of Duke's market in the Sunshine State.

4. Duke's purchase of Progress Energy last summer is already a legend in badly managed mergers. John Mullin, former lead director of Progress, bitterly criticized the ouster of Progress Energy chief Bill Johnson as CEO-to-be of a postmerger Duke. Mullin insisted no Progress director would have okayed the deal had they known Duke's Jim Rogers would be CEO of the combined company. Too little, too late of a protest. Duke won easily.

3. A full-page ad in Wednesday's Charlotte Observer by Greenpeace and local environmental group NC WARN criticizes Duke CEO Rogers (who retires at year end) for not doing enough to fight global warming. "Jim Rogers has seven months to determine how history will remember his eight years as the CEO of one of the world's largest electric utilities: a leader who helped start a clean energy revolution, or a laggard who talked about global warming but never acted to stop it."

2. Duke now controls the Levy County nuclear power plant project first proposed by Progress Energy in 2006. An absurd Florida law enacted in 2006 lets Duke charge Florida customers in advance for the Levy project, even if Duke later decides (which is likely) not to proceed. Attempts to seriously change that law are fading in the current state Legislature. How long will Duke milk this gift from Florida's very own addled lawmakers?

1. So how has Duke Energy's stock fared amid so much tumult? Since late 2012, shares have gone one direction: Up. And why not? Investors are protected while ratepayers absorb higher costs.

So, let's officially welcome Duke to Florida. Just don't stand in its way unless you want to be run over.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@tampabay.com.

Duke Energy officially arrives in Florida with iron fist 05/01/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 11:02pm]

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