Duke Energy's Jim Roberts defends CEO shake-up

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Duke Energy CEO Jim Roberts faced a panel of clearly annoyed regulators yesterday, trying to explain to them why he would run the merged utility they just approved, replacing Progress Energy CEO Bill Johnson.

Members of The N.C. Utilities Commission said they gave the Duke Progress merger the green light based in part on the belief that Johnson would be at the helm, but in a surprise move, Johnson was let go before he ever really got started on the job, and the company said Roberts would remain in charge.

One regulator implied that Roberts pulled a bait-and-switch because he didn't want to give up his role as CEO.

"It's been fun as the last 23 years as CEO," Roberts replied. "I do enjoy it. I have lots of energy. But...I'm trying to read between the lines...I was fully prepared to be executive chairman and not CEO."

Roberts said it was Duke's board that instigated the change.

"The board had doubts about Mr. Johnson's ability to lead the combined company and asked me whether - if the combined companies were to make the decision to appoint me as CEO following the closing - I would be willing to accept the position."

Roberts told them yes.

But no one told regulators who were in the midst of approving the massive merger.

"The decision was not made until it was made," Roberts said. "I wish we could have given the commission prior notice but corporate decisions are announced when they are made not when they are being contemplated."

Rogers says the decision to get rid of Bill Johnson had to remain confidential until the merger was approved, because the energy company executives had to protect shareholders, and they believe the merger is in their best interest.

One regulator told Rogers he had lost her trust.

The hearing lasted four hours, and Johnson could be called before the cancel next.

The commission still has the power to alter or rescind their approval of the merger.

And now the pressure is really mounting on Rogers. Stemming from The Washington Post, reports surfaced Wednesday that several people with close working knowledge of DNC planning are blaming Rogers for fund raising issues.

The Post says Democrats spoke to its reporters on the condition of anonymity and that they're pointing fingers at Rogers, claiming his focus on the massive Duke-Progress merger is distracting him from his role as a key convention fundraiser.

But DNC Host Committee CEO Dan Murrey defended Rogers.

"Jim's been a great partner from the very beginning," Murrey said. "He was instrumental in bringing the convention to Charlotte, and he's been with us every step of the way in terms of creating the fund raising plan and carrying it out."