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Duke Energy to pay departing Progress Energy CEO Bill Johnson $10.3 million

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Bill Johnson, the Progress Energy chief executive whose sudden departure was announced hours after Duke Energy and Progress merged, is getting a big payout.

Duke Energy reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission that it is paying Johnson as much as $10.3 million. Johnson was supposed to become CEO of the combined company Tuesday, but resigned suddenly.

Johnson last week signed a three-year employment contract that was supposed to take effect Tuesday.

The merger created America's largest electric utility, with 7.1 million customers across six states.

Duke said in the securities filing that Johnson gets a severance payout of $7.4 million, a 2012 bonus of $1.4 million, and a lump sum of up to $1.5 million. Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers will continue in that role as head of the expanded company.

The Rogers-for-Johnson swap could mean a more drastic shift in corporate culture for Progress' employees and a different perspective on how to generate power for its 1.6 million Florida customers.

At the top of Duke's to-do list is a decision about the Crystal River nuclear plant in Citrus County, which broke on Johnson's watch during a botched maintenance and upgrade project. The 42-inch-thick concrete reactor containment building cracked during the project, and subsequent repair attempts resulted in more cracks.

The projected cost for repairs and the purchase of replacement power while the plant sits idle exceeds $2 billion. The nuclear plant's problems could have been a key reason why Johnson did not get the top job at the merged company, analysts said.

"It could be the recognition that the cost of the Crystal River plant could be a larger concern than perhaps Duke had realized," said Peter Schwarz, economics professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Times staff writer Ivan Penn contributed to this report, which includes information from the Associated Press.

Duke Energy to pay departing Progress Energy CEO Bill Johnson $10.3 million 07/04/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 4, 2012 7:59pm]
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