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Charlotte Area News

Duke Board Members Refute 'Cold Feet' Allegations

Friday was Duke Energy's turn back in the hot seat as state utility regulators continue their investigation into the sudden ouster of former Progress CEO Bill Johnson. Duke Energy board members testified they never doubted a merger with Progress would be good for customers and - contrary to Johnson's allegations - they never wanted out of the deal. But they also say they never liked Johnson much from the start. Lead Duke Energy director Ann Gray referenced Johnson's comments at the first of only a few times he met with the Duke Energy board. "He did describe himself as being an individual who likes to learn but not be taught," says Gray. She took that to mean Johnson wasn't interested in the Duke board's input. In testifying to the North Carolina Utilities Commission, Gray mentioned a few other instances in which Johnson didn't respond to requests as quickly and thoroughly as the Duke board wanted. She also said the board saw no point in mentioning their concerns to Johnson before giving him the boot. "You can't remediate a vote of no confidence in our opinion, so when the board felt that way, there really didn't appear to be a reason (to meet with Johnson)," said Gray. That left the board to get most of its information about Johnson second hand from a handful of Duke executives - two of whom were rumored to be on the chopping block once Johnson took charge. Still, Duke board members told commissioners they stand by their decision to fire Johnson. Commission Chairman Ed Finley says that's not the point: "The difficulty we have is that these individuals came down here in September 2012 and told us under oath one thing, promised that was going to happen and it didn't happen." Whether or not the deception warrants revisiting the merger approval - or punishing Duke Energy in some way - is the question on Finley's mind. The North Carolina Utilities Commission has spent sixteen hours interrogating key players in the last-minute CEO switch. Internal documents related to the deal are due to the commission by July 31st.