The investigation into whether regulators and consumers were misled in the run-up to the merger of two Fortune 500 energy companies could continue quietly for months after a deadline arrives next week.
North Carolina utilities regulators and the state's attorney general have demanded internal documents and other evidence by Aug. 7 involving Duke Energy Corp. and its surprise decision to change a key detail of its Progress Energy Inc. takeover, even as regulators were considering approval.
The utilities commission plans to hire an outside law firm to review the documents to see whether it was misled when it approved the takeover June 29. The companies completed their merger July 2. About two hours later, Duke Energy's board of directors voted to oust the CEO it officially had appointed, former Progress CEO Bill Johnson.
The commission's review could take months, or Duke Energy could take the very strong suggestion of the regulatory body's chairman and offer settlement terms.
The investigations complicate the already tricky effort to mesh operations without affecting service to Charlotte-based Duke Energy's 7.1 million residential and business customers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Florida.
Dumping Johnson after stating for a year and a half that he'd run the combined Duke Energy increases the risk "that the company may not be able to realize timely and constructive regulatory outcomes in North Carolina and Florida, two of its largest jurisdictions," S&P credit analyst Dimitri Nikas wrote last week.