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Australia: Open Arms, Open Access, and the Outback

Fortnightly Magazine - June 15 1996

the west where we live, there's a whole new market out there that we never considered. It allows small utilities like ourselves, who have taken the time and made the investment in learning about photovoltaics... to go and make some money."

Idaho Power has 340,000 customers in Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho.

"Certainly there are better returns to be had elsewhere," says Dean Conklin, a Montana Power spokesman. "We live in a state with 850,000 people. And we don't even serve the entire state. ... Obviously, the growth opportunities for us are going to be beyond the service territory of our utility."

Montana Power has invested outside its geographic and service area for years, beginning in 1951 when it started piping in Canadian natural gas. It later got into coal, oil, and lignite (brown coal). In 1986, it invested in one-sixth of a Brazilian gold mine. Montana Power Co.'s independent Power Group, a $100-million unregulated subsidiary, invested in a barge-based generating plant in Jamaica in 1995, and a cogeneration plant in Great Britain in 1993. Montana Power has also considered investments in China.

Financial reasons brought the company overseas, however, not the desire to learn how to operate in different regulatory climes.

Conklin says he knows of few other small utilities expanding overseas, but believes we may see more. Consortiums, with a bank or investment-house partner to split up the risk, could become popular.

"The question is: Where are the opportunities for growth?" he asks.

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