— KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Valley Authority's board has chosen a former energy chief from North Carolina, who was ousted from his previous company earlier this year, to succeed retiring Tom Kilgore as the chief executive of the nation's largest public utility.
Bill Johnson was CEO of Progress Energy and had been slated to lead Duke Energy when the two companies combined to form the nation's largest investor-owned utility in July. But within hours of the merger Johnson was out, replaced by Jim Rogers, who had been Duke's CEO but was slated to become executive chairman.
The surprise ouster has prompted North Carolina's utility regulator to investigate whether the state and public were misled during the merger approval process.
At a news conference in Knoxville on Monday, TVA Board Chairman Bill Sansom expressed total confidence in the board's choice of leadership. He said the board was unanimous in its support for Johnson.
"He's got a lot of industry expertise, a lot of integrity; he's tough; he expects performance; and he's a winner," Sansom said.
Johnson, who will take over the $11 billion federal agency in January, said that he thinks TVA can be a model for the industry. He said he wants to make how the company treats customers and employees a top priority, along with making TVA as effective as possible. He also said operating safely and with integrity and transparency were important.
Asked about his abrupt departure from Duke, Johnson referred reporters to his testimony before the North Carolina Utilities Commission.
During that testimony in July, Johnson told regulators that Duke's leaders wanted to back out of the merger when they realized it would be more expensive than originally thought.
"They wanted the merger, then they didn't want it, then they couldn't get out of it, then they didn't want to be stuck with me as the person who dragged them to it," he said.
Duke CEO Rogers testified that directors told him they wanted him back in charge because they disliked Johnson's leadership style, his handling of problems with Progress Energy's closed Crystal River nuclear plant in Florida and the company's financial performance.
Johnson's annual compensation at TVA consists of a $950,000 salary and potential additional compensation of up to $3 million that is tied to performance objectives and retention, according to a news release on Johnson's selection.
The Tennessee Valley Authority provides electricity for business customers and distribution utilities that serve 9 million people in parts of seven southeastern states. TVA, which receives no taxpayer money and makes no profits, also provides flood control, navigation and land management for the Tennessee River system and assists utilities and state and local governments with economic development.