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Column | John Romano

Duke, Progress merger complaints ring hollow

It's been a rough week here at the public utilities complaint desk.

We've got mergers and coups. We've got an attorney general demanding documents and a state commission holding a hearing. Fellas, we've got ourselves a mess.

So if everyone could just take a seat, we'll read your complaints one a time:

Mr. John Mullin III, former lead director of Progress Energy, complains that the utility's board would have never voted for a merger with Duke Energy if it had known Progress chief Bill Johnson was going to be ousted as CEO.

I can see why that would be upsetting. You have been promised one thing, and the reality turns out to be completely different.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure that qualifies as a real complaint in the world of public utilities. Or have you forgotten about Progress Energy's nuclear plant in Levy County?

That deal was supposed to cost $5 billion and open in 2016, but now has projections of $24 billion and a target date of When-Monkeys-Fly.

Let's move on.

The North Carolina Utilities Commission and the state's attorney general are concerned they were duped. That somewhere, somehow, someone was misleading them on this merger business.

Okay, this is what we call a frivolous complaint.

Remember, we're talking about utility companies here. Transparency is not their thing. Neither are rules, fair play or accountability.

Progress Energy once tried to fix a nuclear plant in Crystal River with a handyman and a pair of pliers, and hundreds of millions of dollars later we're still waiting for a mea culpa.

Duke Energy customers in Indiana have accused the company of fraud and gross mismanagement because a power plant that was supposed to cost $1.985 billion has come in at $3.3 billion.

So … moving on.

Mr. Alfred Tollison, a former director at Progress Energy, says he is disappointed and shocked Duke Energy would renege on its word.

Hmmm, that is disturbing.

Perhaps Progress Energy should look to its constituents for support on this. Rally the common folks. Appeal to the customers who have already paid more than $1 billion in advance for a nuclear plant that still looks like a figment of the imagination.

Or maybe that's not such a good idea.

After all, Progress Energy was recently talking about raising rates on those same customers to cover another $49 million in up-front costs for that still-broken Crystal River plant. Perhaps the customers have done enough.

Okay, one more.

Duke Energy shareholders are complaining this merger may have been mishandled. Stock prices have gone down, and credit ratings are shaky. The whole deal sounds shady.

Is it possible you people are just a wee bit paranoid? It's not like Duke Energy has been caught playing fast and loose with the rules before.

After all, that appeals court in Ohio did not actually say Duke Energy was guilty of paying millions of dollars in kickbacks to large corporations in exchange for their support of a rate increase a few years ago. All the court said was there was enough evidence to bring the lawsuit in front of a jury.

Sheesh.

I'm going to suggest you guys work these complaints out amongst yourselves.

Because, from here, it looks like y'all are made for each other.

Duke, Progress merger complaints ring hollow 07/09/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 10, 2012 9:01am]
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