The state's consumer advocate says there's no need to hold another round of public hearings on the proposed merger between Progress Energy and Duke Energy.
The Public Staff, as the state's consumer protection agency is called, told the N.C. Utilities Commission late Wednesday that the merger proposal is ready for a ruling. The Public Staff is arguably the most influential independent participant in the merger proceedings and the bureau's position points to a likely imminent ruling from the N.C. commission.
The N.C. commission is the last major hurdle for the $26 billion utility deal, which was announced 18 months ago and finally approved Friday by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Friday.
The federal commission imposed additional conditions on the merger on Friday, but the Public Staff said those conditions don't require holding more hearings and delaying the merger review.
"The issues we discuss in our Comments are not factual in nature and therefore an evidentiary hearing isn’t necessary," said Public Staff lawyer Gisele Rankin.
The Public Staff is suggesting that the N.C. Utilities Commission include several provisions in its final ruling that would guarantee that no merger-related costs are passed on to North Carolina's households and businesses.
Raleigh-based Progress and Charlotte-based Duke hope to get their $26 billion deal approved in the coming weeks and made a similar request to the N.C. Utilities Commission.
The N.C. commission is expected to issue a ruling on the merger in the coming weeks. The commission's standard is determining if the merger has a detrimental effect on customers in this state, but the Public Staff is urging that the commission go further and require that the merger have beneficial effects for customers.
The N.C. commission held hearings on the merger in September but subsequently the FERC rejected the merger application, forcing Progress and Duke to modify their application. The question now is whether the modifications require another round of public hearings.
"The only thing that is at issue is the impact of the FERC’s orders," Rankin said. "All other issues were dealt with in the hearing process last year. "
South Carolina regulators said yesterday that no further hearings will be necessary in that state.
The two electric utilities worked closely with the Public Staff to fashion modifications that would not cause problems in this state.