UPDATED: A pair of advocacy groups that have long challenged power companies are urging Gov.-elect Pat McCrory to cede his constitutional powers to appoint regulators to the N.C. Utilities Commission.
N.C. WARN and the state branch of the AARP are concerned that McCrory, a former Duke Energy employee and ex-mayor of Charlotte, will stack the commission with utility-friendly appointees who will side with the Charlotte power company on rates and other key issues.
Their concern is that McCrory has vowed to name regulators who view their job as providing a customer service to the companies they regulate. That concern is exacerbated by the fact that the commission recently concluded a contentious 5-month investigation of Duke, which ended with a settlement that will restructure the company's executive ranks.
The 7-slot commission currently has one vacancy, with two more slots opening up this summer. That will give McCrory's appointments a 43-percent representation on the commission within his first year in the Governor's mansion.
N.C. WARN and AARP want McCrory to recuse himself from making commission appointments. Instead they want him to develop a process that would allow retired N.C. justices or former governors to make those appointments.
"Your former employer, Duke Energy is now the largest electric utility in the country and provides about 97% of the electricity in our state," the two organizations wrote. "After being employed at Duke Energy for 28 years, you have an actual conflict of interest."
McCrory will also be able to select a commission chairman. If he replaces current chairman Ed Finley Jr., Finley would remain as commissioner. When the commission's investigation of Duke got underway last summer, Finley was outspoken during public hearings on Duke's handling of its star-crossed merger with Raleigh-based Progress Energy.
Additionally, McCrory will get to pick the next director of the Public Staff, the state agency that represents residents in utility rate cases. The current director, Robert Gruber, had accused Duke of deception and called for the ouster of Duke CEO Jim Rogers, in the wake of the Progress-Duke merger.
A McCrory spokesman said the governor-elect "is going to do the job he was elected to do by the people of North Carolina."
The six current commission members were appointed by Democratic governors Mike Easley and Bev Perdue.
--Staff writer John Murawski