The public hearings on the proposed merger between Progress Energy and Duke Energy got underway this morning with dozens of residents waiting their turn to speak in a standing-room only hearing room.
Speakers decry Duke-Progress merger as monopolistic overreach
Submitted by johnmurawski on 09/20/2011 - 10:53
The N.C. Utilities Commission is holding hearings this week in Raleigh on the two power companies' plan to create the nation's largest electric utility. This week's hearings will be the only forum for the public to debate the merger, a fact several speakers decried.
"We urge you to take these meetings to the communities whose interests you are obligated to serve," Miriam Thompson of Chapel Hill said to a round of applause from the audience
As residents spoke emotionally about the merger -- mostly against the proposal -- Duke CEO Jim Rogers and Progress CEO Bill Johnson stood by, awaiting their turn to make presentations to the utilities commission.
Rogers and Johnson are not likely to get their chance to speak until late this afternoon or possibly tomorrow morning. Johnson will become CEO of the combined Duke Energy when the merger is finalized.
The two executives will stress the benefits of the merger, including the heft needed to finance multibillion dollar power plants and other capital projects that are seen as increasingly risky on Wall Street. The companies have said that the merger will help hold down rate increases, and have promised to pass through $650 million in fuel and related savings over five years.
Last week the companies said they plan to eliminate 2,000 jobs over three years from a combined workforce that today stands at about 29,000. Many of those cuts will come in Raleigh, where Progress is dismantling its corporate headquarters in anticipation of the merged company's home base being in Charlotte.
The utilities commission is almost certain to approve the merger, but has broad powers to impose conditions.
Many speakers urged the utilities commission to require the merged Duke Energy to make greater strides in green energy and subsidization of low-income home weatherization programs.
Speakers traveled from Charlotte, Boone and other far-flung regions of the state to lobby the utilities commission.
"While the merger may save funds in redundancies and greater efficiency, we hope that you will effectively limit excessive compensation by ensuring that greater funds are directed to helping North Carolina's poor instead of giving executives high compensation packages," said Alfred Ripley, a lawyer with the N.C. Justice Center in Raleigh.
Added Beth Henry of Charlotte: "We need to weatherize every existing building in North Carolina, avoiding new power plants."
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About the bloggerJohn 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.