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Consumer advocate Robert Gruber: I'm not retiring

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Less than a month after announcing his retirement, the state's top consumer advocate has changed his mind.

Robert Gruber, 67, said this afternoon that he will not step down June 1 as previously planned.

The reason: Gov. Bev Perdue called him on the phone this morning and asked him to reconsider, and Gruber agreed to stay on the job at least until the complex merger is completed between Duke Energy and Progress Energy. That means that Gruber is not likely to retire until early next year, and possibly not until the end of his appointed term in 2013.

For the past 28 years, Gruber has headed the Public Staff, an independent agency that advocates for consumers in utility rates cases involving electric utilities, natural gas companies as well as moving companies and transportation ferries. He is one of the longest-serving public consumer advocates in the nation.

The Duke-Progress merger was announced in January and will create the nation's largest electric utility. The companies expect to file for approval this month at the N.C. Utilities Commission and other state and federal agencies.

As part of the Public Staff's review the merger for potential benefits to customers, Gruber has signaled he probably will press for rate cuts to Duke and Progress customers as a condition of getting the merger approved. The final decision on the terms of the merger in this state is up to the Utilities Commission.

"It's going to be challenging but there's a part of me that would miss being a part of this [merger review]," Gruber said. "So I'm ready to go."

Gruber has been appointed as Public Staff director five times by four Democratic governors and one Republican.

If he had left June 1, Perdue would have had to find someone to fill the remaining two years of the six-year term.

Perdue's office could not immediately be reached for more details.

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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.