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Q&A: How will Progress Energy merger affect Tampa Bay customers?

If Duke Energy completes the $13.7 billion deal to buy Progress Energy, here's what local customers might expect.

Will my bill go up? Or down?

A combined company would be able to trim jobs and run power plants more efficiently — saving, for example, $600 million to $800 million in fuel costs over five years — but electric bills aren't expected to fall. The costs of building new plants, erecting new wires and upgrading existing plants to meet clean air and clean water regulations are going to increase the cost of power.

Do I still send my payment to the same place?

Yes. The merger, if it is approved, isn't expected to be complete until the end of the year. Customers wouldn't see any changes until then, said Progress Energy spokesman Mike Hughes.

What happens next?

The merger must clear a series of hurdles with, for example, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and regulators in both states — plus get the approval of shareholders of both companies.

Will the deal go through?

Lasan Johong, a utilities analyst with RBC Capital Markets Equity Research, says he doesn't expect any major obstacles. Still, in recent years state regulators have scuttled proposed deals that would have created utility giants.

Will customer service change?

It's hard to say. But here's one clue: Duke Energy delivered the best customer satisfaction to residents in the southeastern United States, according to the latest J.D. Power survey. Progress Energy Florida was last among 14 utilities.

Will the merger affect the reliability of power to my house?

Over time, it's possible reliability could improve. A combined company would have more to invest in capital improvements at a cheaper cost, and Progress Energy Florida CEO Vinny Dolan says a larger utility would also mean more resources to respond to emergencies.

How does this affect construction of a planned nuclear plant in Levy County?

Progress and Duke officials hope their larger, merged companies will have greater ability to finance costly nuclear plants, so this may help stimulate the delayed project in Levy.

How many jobs will be lost?

Dolan says he expects the number of Florida jobs to stay the same — employees here work on the front lines. But there will be a drop in corporate staff in North Carolina. The companies would not provide details about job cuts but said they plan to rely heavily on attrition and retirements to reduce the workforce. After Duke's last large merger, with Cinergy Corp. in 2006, it laid off 1,500 people.

How many local employees does Progress Energy have?

There are approximately 1,200 Progress Energy employees in Tampa Bay, including 400 at its downtown St. Petersburg office and 250 at its Clearwater call center. In Florida, about 4,000 people work for Progress.

How many local customers does Progress Energy serve?

It provides power to roughly 639,000 customers in Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties, of about 1.6 million in the state.

So, Progress Energy will become Duke Energy. But will we still have "Progress Energy Florida"?

Progress CEO Bill Johnson and Duke CEO Jim Rogers say they haven't yet decided what Progress Energy Florida will be called.

Information from Times staff and the Associated Press was used in this report.

Q&A: How will Progress Energy merger affect Tampa Bay customers? 01/10/11 [Last modified: Monday, January 10, 2011 10:46pm]

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