Still facing a series of regulatory hurdles to their planned merger, Duke Energy and Progress Energy have cleared what might be described as a speed bump along the way, winning approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that's necessary to consummate their $26 billion deal.
The NRC said Raleigh-based Progress will be able to transfer its nuclear operating licenses to Charlotte-based Duke when the two companies are combined.
Progress currently operates five nuclear reactors at four sites in the Carolinas and Florida, including the Shearon Harris plant in southwestern Wake County. When those units are combined with Duke's seven units, Duke will operate the largest regulated nuclear fleet in the country.
The NRC ruling, issued Friday, is a formality with little practical consequence. Progress is the sole operator of its nuclear plants, and will remain the operator when it becomes a subsidiary of Duke. The license transfer will not affect plant operations, decommissioning funding or financial qualifications.
The companies announced in January they plan to combine into the nation's largest electric utility with 7.1 customers in six states. They had hoped to complete the merger this year but are still awaiting approval from the N.C. Utilities Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Progress owns 83.83 percent of the single-reactor Shearon Harris plant. The remaining 16.17 percent is owned by the N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency, or NCEMPA, which supplies electricity to 32 municipalities.
Progress owns 81.67 percent of the twin-reactor Brunswick plant near Wilmington. The remaining 18.33 percent is owned by NCEMPA.
Progress owns 100 percent of the single-reactor H.B. Robinson plant near Hartsville, S.C.
And the company owns 91.78 percent of the single-reactor Crystal River plant north of Tampa, Fla. The remaining 8.22 percent is split by eight Florida towns and an electric cooperative.