Progress Energy issued lackluster first-quarter earnings this morning in what Progress officials hope is the company’s last quarterly earnings release as a stand-alone company.
By next month company leaders and employees anticipate a ruling from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on whether the Raleigh-based company can proceed in a corporate merger with its cross-state neighbor, Charlotte-based Duke Energy.
The company reported ongoing earnings of 48 cents a share, or $143 million, for the first three months of the year, compared to 69 cents a share, or $202 million, for the same period last year.
First quarter revenues were essentially flat, dipping from $2.17 billion to $2.09 billion. But profit fell substantially, from $185 million to $152 million.
The company actually improved financially in Florida but its earnings in the Carolinas dropped by more than half, falling from 47 cents a share to just 20 cents a share.
Progress executives will update investors and analysts on their earnings and merger status this morning in a conference call.
Progress blamed its slack earnings on mild weather and on an extended nuclear refueling outage. Idled nuclear plants force utilities to make up the power from more expensive sources, such as buying wholesale power from other utilities or regional electricity brokers.
“The extremely mild weather through the first quarter of 2012 – although certainly a welcome respite for our customers – resulted in significantly lower energy sales in the Carolinas,” CEO Bill Johnson, who is slated to become chief executive of Duke Energy after the merger, said in a prepared statement.
Executives at Progress and Duke have been preoccupied with the pending merger since it was first announced in January 2011. Executives had hoped to complete the $26 billion deal, which would form the nation’s largest electric utility, last December, but those hopes were dashed when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission twice rejected the deal.
If the feds approve it in this go-round, it would then be reviewed by the N.C. Utilities Commission in Raleigh. The feds are concerned that the combined Duke Energy would dominate the region and potentially manipulate wholesale electricity prices.