Progress Energy CEO urges patience in pending merger

Posted January 19, 2011 5:01 p.m. EST
Updated January 19, 2011 6:25 p.m. EST

— After trying for more than a week to quell employee fears over a pending acquisition by Duke Energy, Progress Energy Chief Executive Bill Johnson acknowledged Wednesday that he is a bit anxious about the $26 billion deal himself.

"I understand the anxiety. I have a little anxiety about this myself," said Johnson, who will become chief executive of the combined utility.

Still, he asked employees to be patient while details are worked out.

"Be patient. When we know something, we'll tell you. But also think about other opportunities in the company. Where can you make the biggest contribution?" he said.

Johnson said it's too early to determine how many jobs the combined company might cut as it moves its headquarters to Charlotte. While production and line crew jobs appear stable, support positions from finance to legal services will be vulnerable for early retirement and layoffs.

"If we have to let people go, we will have severance packages. We will be fair. We'll be transparent," he said.

The combination of Progress Energy and Duke Energy will create the largest utility in the U.S., with about 7 million customers from Florida to Indiana. Regulators still must approve the deal, which likely won't be completed until next year.

Johnson said the merger will create cost savings and leverage as the utility plans to build expensive power plants to meet growing demand across the Southeast, but he added that would mean only slower-rising electric bills, not smaller ones.

"Over time, it will go up, and there's no escaping that fact," he said.

Progress Energy employs about 1,800 people in Raleigh, and the company is a major benefactor to local nonprofit groups. The company holds the naming rights to Raleigh's downtown performing arts center.

Johnson, who has lived in Raleigh for 35 years and plans to keep a home in the city even after moving to Charlotte, promised that the company would maintain a "significant presence" in downtown Raleigh.

"I have deep connections here," he said. "I still think this is going to be one of the greatest places to live in America, and the combined company is going to do its part to make sure that remains true."