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At Progress Energy, all quiet on the shareholder front

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A week after dozens of protesters livened up Duke Energy's annual shareholders meeting in Charlotte, Progress Energy's annual meeting this morning in Raleigh was an understated affair without a hint of political theater.

Progress CEO Bill Johnson spent most of the session on formalities, fielding a mere three questions from a handful of shareholders in attendance. The auditorium was half-full at the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, mostly attended by Progress employees and company officials.

Progress and Duke are in the midst of a corporate merger that will form the nation's largest electric utility to be headquartered in Charlotte and headed by Johnson. The imminent merger notwithstanding, the politically agile Johnson has so far kept himself out of the crosshairs.

Johnson deferred questions about the merger until the two companies hold special shareholder meetings this summer to approve the corporate union.

But Johnson did note that the merger will revive the company's dividend, which was frozen in 2009 for the first time since 1946 as a means of helping Progress control operating costs. The dividend is sacrosanct with Progress investors, and freezing the payout signaled that something was amiss.

"If you buy this stock because you're interested in the dividend, it should be bigger and it should grow," Johnson told shareholders. "That's my expectation."

The company reserved an hour for the shareholders meeting and concluded about 15 minutes before time ran out. Police officers idled about, ready to quell a disturbance and eject a disruptive member of the audience.

At last week's Duke meeting, Tea Party conservatives protested Duke's $10 million line of credit to help bring the Democratic National Convention to Charlotte.

Left-leaning demonstrators pushed for more green energy and objected to Duke's use of coal mined by blowing apart Appalachian mountaintops.

N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, based in Durham, had sent more 75 protesters at the Duke meeting.

Jim Warren, the group's executive director, said NC WARN had contemplated sending demonstrators to the Progress shareholders meeting but chose to focus on Duke after consulting with other activist groups.

One draw: Duke CEO Jim Rogers.

"Rogers is the top dog at this point," Warren said.

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About the blogger

John Murawski has been a full-time newspaper reporter since 1991, with stints at Legal Times and The Chronicle of Philanthropy (both in Washington, DC), The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Palm Beach Post (in South Florida) before arriving at the N&O in December 2004. At the N&O he covers energy (nuclear, coal, renewable, efficiency), hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking"), public utilities and health care. His beat includes PSNC Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, Duke Energy Progress, PowerSecure International, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Biogen Idec and others. He has also contributed more than 30 book reviews on topics spanning botany, history, science and religion. You can reach him at 919-829-8932 or e-mail him.
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