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Johnson: 'Duke management had a change of heart'

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RALEIGH -- Former Progress Energy CEO Bill Johnson says problems with the merger with Duke Energy started in the early part of this year. He told state regulators a conflict about the deal led to his firing right after the deal closed this month.

In testimony to the NC Utilities Commission, Johnson painted a picture of personality conflicts, hurt feelings and communication problems that led to him being fired minutes after the Duke-Progress merger closed.

Johnson said the problems started around Christmas, when federal regulators rejected a plan to deal with problems they had with the merger. After that, Johnson said, "things started to go downhill."

The companies stopped work to integrate their corporate cultures and Johnson said he had almost no contact with Duke, its employees or its directors until June. He said he believed Duke was looking for a way to back out of the deal.

?"It was very apparent to me the Duke management had a change of heart, when they looked at the mitigation plan for cost, about whether they wanted to do this deal," said Johnson. "I believe then and I believe now that they explored every avenue to get out of this merger, sort of violating the merger agreement."

Duke directors say they fired Johnson because of his leadership style and concerns about struggling progress nuclear plants. Duke attorneys wanted to cross examine Johnson Thursday, but the utilities commission says duke doesn't have the right to do so.

The commission will hear from four board members about the leadership shakeup later Thursday and Friday.

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