MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer HELENA
NorthWestern Energy told investors Wednesday that it does not plan to seek another buyer, and is instead focusing on doing business as a standalone utility. NorthWestern released earnings Wednesday showing the company increased profits in the latest quarter, and discussed the state of the company at its annual shareholder meeting in Sioux Falls, S.D. Mike Hanson, president and chief executive officer, said the company is definitely not seeking a new buyer in the wake of the failed sale to Australian company Babcock & Brown Infrastructure. One shareholder asked if that meant the company would not entertain an offer from a group of Montana cities that had sought to buy the utility and turn it into a publicly owned operation. Hanson said the company would have a duty to review any offers that came in, but said NorthWestern is not making new plans to sell. “We are going to move forward as a stand-alone utility company,” Hanson told shareholders at a meeting broadcast from Sioux Falls. “This is a very solid company.” The company’s stock price has dropped since plans to sell the company to an Australian company were scuttled late last month by the Montana Public Service Commission. Montana Public Power Inc., the group of cities, said Wednesday that there is some interest in renewing their effort to buy NorthWestern. Their first attempt was rejected in favor of the Australian offer. “Obviously, there is some interest,” said Alec Hansen, executive director of the Montana League of Cities and Towns. “But there is not a definite plan at this time to go forward or do anything.” NorthWestern told shareholders its financial positions is improving, and said it is capable of being a strong company going forward. Net income rose to $2.4 million, or 6 cents per share, from a net loss of $2.4 million, or 8 cents per share, a year earlier. Hanson said dividends will be increased 2 cents per share to 33 cents which equates to an annual dividend of $1.32 per share. “Although our proposed merger terminated, we are well positioned for the future,” Hanson said, adding that the company still plans to build and operate a 500-kilovolt electric transmission line between southwestern Montana and southeastern Idaho. The project will cost an estimated $800 million. NorthWestern, which bought the Montana utility operations of the old Montana Power Co. And then went bankrupt, emerged from bankruptcy in 2004. It has been the subject of merger or takeover speculation for the past two years. The shareholders Wednesday also re-elected Hanson and the other members of the board of directors to their posts. Shares of the company fell $1.18 Wednesday, or 4.29 percent, to close at to $26.35. The BBI offer was for $37 a share. The June 2005 offer by MPP was $32.50 per share.