The approval process for UtiliCorp United Inc.�s merger with Empire District Electric Co. inched along another notch when Missouri Public Service Commission approved the union late Thursday.
UtiliCorp announced the merger in May 1999. One or both of the companies operate in 9 states requiring separate state approval processes. All but two states have approved the merger so far as well as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The merger was setback, however, the first week in December when Arkansas regulators rejected the combination. An administrative law judge recommended that the application not be approved because he was unable to separate the application for the merger with that of the regulatory plan.
�We have filed for a rehearing and appeal,� says Julie Mauss, spokeswoman with Empire District. �We refiled the same application.�
The Missouri commission also rejected the regulatory plan that was filed with the merger application. UtiliCorp had asked for a 5-year rate freeze. During the freeze, the company requested that no regulatory limits be placed on the rate of return that UtiliCorp could earn.
Regulators said the utility would have to file standard rate cases and be subject to regulatory review of the rate of return.
�We�re still studying the order,� says George Minter, spokesman for UtiliCorp. �We haven�t made a determination yet on what we will do.�
The Missouri commission order is effective Jan. 7, 2001 which allows all parties involved an opportunity to review the order and to file for a rehearing.
Kansas Corporation Commission has not made a decision yet concerning the merger. Hearings were completed in October and the two utilities are waiting for a ruling that is expected any day, says Mauss.
The merger agreement provides that either company can terminate the agreement if the merger has not occurred by Dec. 31, 2000.
But Empire fully intends to pursue the union and UtiliCorp officials indicate that company will probably extend the �effective� date of the merger.
�We�re still in the process of moving it along,� says Mintor.
Mintor said UtiliCorp would release more information about the merger process next week.