Around the Region: Federal commission rejects Duke, Progress merger

Published 6:05 pm Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ruled against the $26 billion proposed merger between Duke Energy and Progress Energy, raising doubts about whether the merger of North Carolina’s largest utilities will gain approval.
It was the second  time FERC cited concerns about monopoly power and rejected the proposed merger, which would create the largest electric utility in the nation. FERC first rejected the proposed merger in September, saying the move could give the companies monopoly power in North Carolina.
Duke and Progress made changes to the merger aimed at alleviating those monopoly concerns, but FERC ruled this week the changes are insufficient. FERC said the utilities’ attempts to address the monopoly concerns were vague and flawed.
Executives at the utilities said they were surprised by the ruling, which came hours before a planned public hearing on the merger in Washington. The utilities have been working on the merger for the past 11 months and hoped to finalize it before the end of this year. The merger plan had been approved by North Carolina’s public staff and environmental advocacy groups, but the utilities now face an indefinite delay as they work on new modifications that may require a new round of public hearings.
“It’s certainly a surprise,” said Progress spokesman Mike Hughes. “We are reviewing the ruling as to what our options are.”
The proposed merger would have resulted in the loss of about 1,860 positions at the utilities after the companies consolidate operations.
The merger also must be approved by the North Carolina Utilities Commission, which plans to issue a decision after the federal approval process is completed.
–    source: www.newsobserver.com, 12/15/11
***
North Carolina continues to have the most National Board-certified teachers of any state in the nation, with 1,244 teachers in the state adding the certification this year. North Carolina now has 19,193 teachers who have gained the certification from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards.
The state, which offers a 12-percent salary supplement to teachers during the 10-year life of the certification, is now home to nearly 20 percent of the National Board-certified teachers in the country. Florida is second with 13,618 National Board-certified teachers, followed by South Carolina with 8,142.
South Carolina, which offers certified teachers a $7,500 annual bonus for 10 years if they applied before July 2010 and a $5,000 annual bonus to those who applied later, added 360 certified teachers this year. However, S.C. Superintendent Mike Zais has recommended closing the program to new applicants next year.
North Carolina continues to maintain incentives for the certification program. In addition to the salary supplement, the state offers low-interest loans to pay the $2,500 assessment fee and three paid release days so teachers can develop their portfolios for the certification process.
– source: www.ncpublicschools.org, www.newsobserver.com, 12/7/11
***
A controversy centered on the actions of sheriff Rick Davis continues to grow in Henderson County.  County commissioners have acknowledged the county paid a $5,000 deductible as a result of a legal claim that involved Davis and one of his female employees.
Commissioners have issued repeated demands for Davis to provide details of the claim, but he has not responded. Sheriff Davis announced last month that he was struggling with “manic bipolar disorder” and he planned to use accrued sick leave while he obtains treatment. Davis said the disorder was causing him to act “erratically.”
The county board this week issued a letter saying Davis must return to work or request a leave of absence by noon on Dec. 23. The board also informed Davis the county will conduct a financial audit of the sheriff’s department.
If Davis fails to meet the Dec. 23 deadline, the county board will “view this as a refusal to perform the duties of the office of sheriff, and will be forced to act accordingly,” said board chairman Thomas Thompson.
The county authorized payment of the $5,000 deductible on Nov. 17. County officials say a settlement resulting from the sexual harassment claim could be higher.
– source: www.blueridgenow.com, www.citizen-times.com, 12/13/11
***
MANNA FoodBank says it will reduce its food collection efforts in Henderson County after nonprofits there complained they are receiving fewer donations because of the food bank’s collections, particularly at schools.
Speaking at a Hunger Coalition meeting Monday, David Cook, executive director of Interfaith Assistance Ministry, said the reduced donations can be attributed partly to the economy, but also to MANNA FoodBank’s competing food and fund drives.
The Interfaith Assistance Ministry reported a 23 percent decrease this year in pounds of donated food compared to last year. Meanwhile, the ministry says requests for food have increased by 7 percent and the organization lost $10,000 in funding for food, according to Cook.
Cindy Threlkeld, executive director of MANNA FoodBank, provided statistics showing her organization may not be pulling away resources, but she emphasized MANNA does not want to hinder the work of the nonprofits in Henderson County. She said MANNA, which provides food for 15 partner agencies in Henderson County, distributed more food in the county than it collected there during the most recent fiscal year. MANNA said it distributed 741,766 pounds of food in Henderson County in the fiscal year that ended June 30.
Threlkeld said MANNA will curtail its collection efforts at schools, letting the schools designate where the donations will go.
“We want to make sure that everything we do is to assist and not compete with what you do,” said Threlkeld.
– source: www.blueridgenow.com, 12/13/11
***
T.J. Maxx is coming to Blue Ridge Mall in Hendersonville next year, according to the mall’s owner.
The store, which will serve as an anchor for the mall, is expected to open in June, said Kendal Jones, vice president of development at the store’s owner, Hull Storey Gibson Cos. LLC.
Jones says the 24,000-square-foot space will be turned over to T.J. Maxx in April. As an anchor store, Jones says T.J. Maxx will have an outside entrance.
– source: www.blueridgenow.com, 12/13/11
***
More than 200 jobs will be coming to Upstate South Carolina at a new Global Energy Franchise manufacturing facility near Blacksburg. The company, which manufactures and assembles photovoltaic panels for residential and commercial solar systems, plans to begin manufacturing by the second quarter of next year.
The company says it will create 81 jobs initially and expand the total to more than 200 over the next four years. Job-skills training will be provided through a partnership with S.C. Works, S.C. Vocational Rehabilitation and Worklink. Global Energy Franchise has already begun the hiring process.
– source: www.sccommerce.com
***
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) dropped a complaint against Boeing relating to the company’s new manufacturing facility in North Charleston, S.C.
The case came to an end after Boeing and the machinists union approved a new four-year contract that address the union’s complaint against Boeing.
The union claimed  Boeing’s decision to open a second plant for the 787 Dreamliner in North Charleston was retaliation against the union. The new contract guarantees work on the 737 Max aircraft will be done in the Seattle area, Boeing’s principal manufacturing location.
“The charge was always about the loss of future jobs in the Seattle area,” said Lafe Solomon, acting general counsel of the NLRB. “We’re certainly satisfied that this agreement resolved all of the legal issues.”
Boeing began building airplanes earlier this year at the new North Charleston facility that’s expected to employ nearly 4,000 workers. Boeing recently opened its 787 Dreamliner delivery center at the new South Carolina complex, which is expected to deliver the first plane made at the plant in the first quarter of next year.
– source: www.scbiznews.com, 12/9/11
***
South Carolina’s aerospace industry continues to grow. GKN Aerospace, a supplier of aerospace and aviation components, announced plans for a new manufacturing facility that will bring $38 million in investment and more than 250 jobs to Orangeburg County. GKN said it plans to begin operations next year at the plant, which will produce components for military and civilian aviation markets.
According to the S.C. Department of Commerce, South Carolina has recruited more than $1.1 billion in capital investment and more than 7,000 jobs in the aerospace and aviation sector since 2009.
– source: www.sccommerce.com