Duke Energy settlement may not lower customers' power bills

by: Jeff Smith Updated:


CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Several energy watchdog groups told Eyewitness News a new settlement with Duke Energy will not help customers' monthly power bills.

Details of the settlement between Progress Energy and Duke Energy were released Thursday afternoon. If approved, it will end a months-long battle over their controversial merger.

When Duke and Progress merged this summer, they became the biggest utility company in the nation, based in Charlotte.

The controversy started when Duke's board ousted Progress' CEO hours after the merger was approved and replaced him with Duke CEO Jim Rogers.

The settlement with state regulators means Rogers will retire when his contract is up next year, and a board -- made up of members from both companies -- will search jointly for a new CEO.

The proposed settlement is also supposed to mean $25 million more in fuel savings for customers. But watchdogs told Eyewitness News customers won't notice a difference.

"Right now the impact of the merger hurts rate payers more than it helps," said Beth Henry, a member of NC WARN.

NC WARN is an energy watchdog group that opposes the merger, believing it's better for customers to have several options for utility service.

This summer Duke also announced $675 million in fuel-related savings, spread out over five years.

"It probably works out to pennies, maybe just one penny, on the average residential electric bill. So the money to rate payers is totally insignificant," Henry said.

Under the proposed settlement, Duke said there'll be an additional $25 million in fuel-related savings. But NC WARN believes that's maybe another penny in savings for customers.

Duke will also ask for a general rate hike in February, and the company admits it could cancel out the benefits of the savings.

"This settlement is just a gift to Duke. We are just terribly disappointed," Henry said. "There's no punishment here for what they did during the merger talks."

Duke CEO Jim Rogers said, "We are already delivering significant benefits from the merger for our customers and investors and we are well positioned for the future."

Duke said it's committed to building new power plants that will better serve its customers.

North Carolina's Attorney General said the deal is still not approved. His office is still investigating the merger.