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Duke Asks For Rate Cut, Regulators Hire Attorney

North Carolina regulators have hired a veteran federal prosecutor to help investigate whether they were misled about the merger between Duke and Progress Energy. Duke Energy, meanwhile, is moving ahead with plans to pass on to customers the savings resulting from the merger. The rate cut will only amount to about 85 cents a month for the average Duke or Progress customer in the Carolinas. But the company promises this is only the start of bigger savings customers can expect as Duke and Progress begin operating their power plants cooperatively. Better scheduling and coordination leads to lower fuel costs, they say. In all, the savings for this next year total about $89 million. As a condition of the merger, Duke had to promise $650 million in savings to customers over the next five years. This first rate cut would take effect in September, if regulators approve. Those same regulators - the North Carolina Utilities Commission - are still trying to figure out if they were bamboozled by Duke board members who ousted Progress CEO Bill Johnson rather than keeping him on as promised. To that end, the commission has hired former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas. The Chicago lawyer is a special investigations expert who drew national praise for his report detailing the demise of Lehman Brothers investment bank. Under state law, Duke Energy will have to pay the lawyer's fees.