- Opponents of Duke Energy's proposed acquisition of Piedmont Natural Gas questioned company officials at a hearing this week, pressing on the utility's increased reliance on natural gas and the chance commodity prices could rise in the future, costing ratepayers millions.
- The Charlotte Observer reports company officials maintained customers would benefit from additional shale gas, and Commission Chair Edward Finley pointed out that fuel risks were not dependent on the merger.
- A month after staff of the North Carolina Utilities Commission reached agreement with Duke Energy and Piedmont related to the merger, advocacy group NC WARN filed a petition with the NC Utilities Commission calling for rule change it says "would create a fair and transparent process for settling" cases.
A hearing this week on Duke's plan to purchase Piedmont for $4.9 billion focused on the utility's reliance on natural gas, though the Observer reports commission officials indicated they were not convinced of the relevance.
“Some of these risks are going to be there whether or not this merger occurs," Chairman Finley said, before allowing the line of questioning after Duke objected it was not relevant.
The merger would add about 1 million new gas customers to Duke's service territory, returning the company to the gas distribution business for the first time since 2007. The two companies are also partners on the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
Last month, Duke reached a settlement with North Carolina Public Staff on certain stipulations and conditions for approval of the transaction. The deal "is justified…and meets the standard for approval" according to staff's filing..
Duke issued a statement saying the stipulations will help protect customers and ensure their bills do not rise as a result of the merger.
Among the deal's stipulations, Piedmont's North Carolina customers will see bills decline by about $10 million, and the combined company would commit $7.5 million for low-income household energy assistance and community job training programs during the first year after the acquisition.
NC WARN, the advocacy group which questioned Duke about gas prices during the hearing, filed a petition last week calling for an end to "backroom deals" that push large deals through.
"Specifically, we’re calling for an open discussion – with all interested parties – on a rules change that would create a fair and transparent process for settling those cases," the group said in a statement. NC WARN criticized the commission for allowing the settlement without public comment, and said regulators "took the extra step of granting Duke’s request to block testimonies by two natural gas experts fielded by NC WARN and allies."