Lynn Good

Jeremy Loeb/BPR

Duke Energy Corp. will pay a $156,000 penalty for polluting ground and surface waters with potentially toxic coal-ash waste around three power plants, an amount one critic compared Friday to a couple of days salary for the company's CEO.

The penalty is less than a slap on the wrist for the country's No. 2 electricity company, which generated $23 billion in revenue and reported paying CEO Lynn Good $21.4 million last year, the Sierra Club's David Rogers said.

Duke Energy's board showed last year that it really wants to keep CEO Lynn Good on the job, boosting the severance package she could get if forced out the door and raising her reported compensation to $21.4 million, according to a company report released Thursday.

Duke Energy said its top executive's compensation has more than doubled over the past two years. 

Profits at Duke Energy were lower in the second quarter compared with a year ago, mainly because of a write-down as it prepares to sell its international business. But executives say Duke's main U.S. operations are strong.

State regulators wrapped up a two-day public hearing in Raleigh Tuesday afternoon on the proposed merger of Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas. The two-day hearing included testimony from company leaders and a protest by merger opponents.

Executives including CEOs Lynn Good of Duke and Thomas Skains of Piedmont argued the $6.7 billion deal would create a stronger company and speed Duke's shift toward cleaner-burning natural gas.

A public hearing starts Monday in Raleigh on Duke Energy's planned acquisition of Piedmont Natural Gas. Approval by the North Carolina Utilities Commission is the deal's final hurdle. 

Duke announced last October it was buying Piedmont for $6.7 billion. That includes $4.9 billion in cash and taking over $1.8 billion in Piedmont debt. Piedmont has two things Duke wants:  

  Duke Energy will have to remove coal ash stored near all 14 of its North Carolina power plants under final risk classifications out Wednesday from state regulators. But that may not be the last word.