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Two consumer groups join challenges to merger of Duke Energy and Progress Energy

A Florida consumer agency joined a growing list of challengers to the merger between Progress Energy and Duke Energy, saying the deal needs further scrutiny.

The Florida Consumer Action Network, a Tampa-based nonprofit organization, became the latest of about 10 groups to call for a new hearing on the $26 billion merger because of concern it could hurt Duke and Progress customers.

FCAN is backing environmental and consumer watchdog group NC WARN's request filed Monday with the North Carolina Utilities Commission for a public hearing to review fresh concerns about the merger. If the request is awarded, it could delay the close of the merger, which Progress and Duke hope to complete before the deal expires July 8.

Approval of the merger by the North Carolina Utilities Commission is one of last hurdles for Progress and Duke to complete the deal.

"We want to draw more attention to what's going on here and how it could affect consumers in Florida and in the Carolinas," said Bill Newton, executive director of FCAN.

In particular, the petition to the North Carolina commission says the troubles at Progress' broken Crystal River nuclear plant and the growing price tag of the utility's proposed $24 billion Levy County nuclear plant could harm consumers because of multibillion-dollar price tabs.

NC WARN also says Duke plans to present a study to its board of directors this week about the troubles at Crystal River. The study is expected to show that the damage to the nuclear plant is worse than Progress has described.

In addition, NC WARN says the merger, as it stands now, "does not provide a net positive benefit to many, and probably most, residential customers, especially families on low or fixed incomes. As such, it should be denied."

NC WARN also wants the utilities commission and the North Carolina attorney general to investigate allegations of "secret deals" with some regulators regarding the merger.

"Due to the sheer size, complexity and sweeping, long-term ramifications of this arrangement," NC WARN's director Jim Warren said in a statement, "the commission must ensure a full and careful examination of all these issues, not compress its review to accommodate the utilities' much-publicized pressure that the deal needs to be closed by any certain date."

Tom Williams, a Duke spokesman, said the utility is reviewing NC WARN's filing and will submit responses to the North Carolina Utility Commission today.

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2332.

Two consumer groups join challenges to merger of Duke Energy and Progress Energy 06/18/12 [Last modified: Monday, June 18, 2012 10:55pm]

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