As the North Carolina Utilities Commission tries to make sense of the farcical events that surround its approval of the merger of Duke Energy and Progress Energy into the largest public electricity company in the nation, the deeper they dig, the dumber Duke looks.
Yesterday the 6-member panel (one seat is unfilled due to political wrangling) heard from former Progress CEO Bill Johnson (pictured). Throughout the 18-month merger process the two companies proclaimed to anyone who cared – including federal regulators, utilities commissions in at least six states, and Wall Street – that Johnson would carry that role over to the combined company, while former Duke CEO James Rogers would elevate to chairman.
Then Duke’s board immediately pulled a fast one and fired the man they said all along would be the joint entity’s CEO, Bill Johnson, who would have continued from the same role he had with Progress. Instead leading the new combined company will be Duke’s current CEO, James Rogers. Throughout the merger approval process everyone understood he would abdicate that role to Johnson while remaining as company chairman.
The hurry to take advantage of funds appropriated through the Recovery Act for “shovel ready” projects impelled the federal agencies – especially the Department of Energy – to hastily allocate the money, and as a result taxpayer money flowed to projects marred by fraud, corruption, poor workmanship, failing companies, and crony corporate socialism.
And now DOE Inspector General Gregory Friedman has discovered the rush to distribute stimulus money may have compromised national security. In an audit report of the department’s management of the Smart Grid Investment Grant Program, which received $3.5 billion to modernize and improve the reliability of the U.S. power grid, the IG found that grant recipients’ plans to prevent “malicious cyber attacks” were often inadequate.
The deal has been planned for months, and when approved by state and federal regulators, will create the largest investor-owned electric utility in the nation. Combined the companies serve residents and businesses in Florida, the Carolinas, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana.
Say what you want about Duke Energy and the often-injudicious CEO James Rogers, but at least he is focused on his company’s profitability and the interests of shareholders.
Last week he composed an op-ed for The News & Observer of Raleigh in which he praised Democrat Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican Sen. John McCain for their introduction of the Foreign Earnings Reinvestment Act. The bill would give American companies a “holiday” from the 35 percent U.S. corporate income tax, enabling businesses to – as James Valvo of Americans for Prosperity explained – invest in capital and R&D, hire and train employees, and pay dividends to shareholders.
The merger hearings for Duke Energy and Progress Energy before the North Carolina Utilities Commission were supposed to be the last major hurdle for the deal to be approved, but now the concerns of a small coastal city and a federal government regulatory agency have cast last-minute doubts. It turns out the demands by environmental groups for Duke to pay more money into weatherization boondoggles were minor irritants compared to the threat posed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Congressional advocates of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill employed bribery to build support for this legislation when they co-opted several corporations by giving them free carbon dioxide emission credits. However, many businesses are still balking at lending support to a bill that will impose a crushing energy tax on the American people and cost the economy trillions of dollars. Since bribery didn't work with these recalcitrant companies, Waxman-Markey supporters are trying intimidation.