Duke Energy CEO tells crowd what could force move from Charlotte

by: Linzi Sheldon Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Duke Energy is one of Charlotte's biggest companies and employers, and on Tuesday, its CEO told a crowd what could force the utility giant to move its headquarters from the Queen City.

CEO Jim Rogers took questions from a crowd of bankers and analysts at the Edison Electric Institute Financial Conference in Phoenix, Ariz.

He acknowledged the rocky relationship between Duke and the North Carolina Utilities Commission after Duke's sudden CEO switch following its merger with Progress Energy.

He said he expects regulators to treat Duke fairly in upcoming rate cases.

"If they do the wrong thing to us, we may not be headquartered in North Carolina in the future, because that puts us in a weakened position," he said.

Duke employs 13,500 employees in North Carolina, with 4,000 of them in Charlotte.

University of North Carolina at Charlotte utilities expert and professor of economics Dr. Peter Schwarz said it's a bold statement from Rogers.

"There's a bit of strategizing going on, I think," he said. "I think he's reminding them of the importance of Duke Energy to the state."

A lot of Duke's future and its potential profits are in regulators' hands.

They're still investigating its merger with Progress Energy.

Duke's Progress Energy side recently asked for a rate increase and Duke plans to ask for its own increase next year.

That's on the heels of a rate hike this February. Attorney General Roy Cooper's office brought that case to the N.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday in an effort to send it back to regulators.

"Was this a warning to regulators?" Eyewitness News asked Duke Energy spokesman Tom Williams.

"No, it wasn't any sort of-- it was just a statement of facts," Williams said of Rogers' comments.

Williams said Duke needs to raise rates to deliver good returns to shareholders.

If it doesn't, he said the company becomes vulnerable to takeover.

"And in that case, the headquarters could be at risk," he said.

Rogers said Duke's focus is on staying in Charlotte.

"We're going to be here a 100 years from now and that's our mindset," he told the crowd.