Atmos Energy Corp. and United Cities Gas Co. have announced an agreement to merge in a share-for-share exchange of common stock.
Atmos distributes natural gas to about 673,000 customers...
A century gone by and we're still no closer to real choice in electricity.
The magazine being what it is, this column usually goes to press at least three weeks ahead of the cover date. Ordinarily I try to anticipate some upcoming event before the fact.
With this issue, however, the job gets tougher. It's more than a new year. In the popular view it's a new century. (But mathematicians know the Millennium begins in 2001.)
Did the electric grid crash on Jan. 1? Did the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announce its new rule on regional transmission organizations on Dec. 15? You'll know before I do. So don't expect any Y2K reports here. There's no percentage in it.
Instead, I plan to attend the opera on New Year's Eve. And they say this one ends on a happy note - no murders or suicides at the final curtain. Let's hope the house lights come up when they're supposed to, and stay on long enough for the audience to find the exits, before the clock strikes midnight.
RUMORS WERE FLYING AT PRESS TIME on whether Western Resources Inc. would go with its planned merger with Kansas City Power & Light Co. (KCP&L) to form Westar Energy. On Dec. 9 the Wichita Eagle had published a story from the Associated Press that the two merger partners were "working to dispel the impression" that their deal was "near collapse." According to the AP, a member of the Kansas Citizens' Utility Board had said the merger was threatened by a drop in the stock price for Western Resources. As the AP reported, financial analysts had tied the drop in price to "poor financial performance" by Protection One, a subsidiary of Western Resources that provides home security services.
The story added that Western Resources chairman David Wittig had discussed possible action if the merger was not completed, fueling speculation that the deal might flounder. According to a spokesman at Western Resources, Witting was discussing only "thoughts and ideas."
I mention these events because in a previous column ("Jim Hoecker's Mailbox," Oct. 15, p. 4), I addressed some of the issues surrounding the Westar deal. In particular, I described how the merger plan approved by Kansas regulators would perpetuate a disparity in retail rates charged to customers located in Wichita vs. those in Topeka. That disparity reflected the former service territory boundaries of Kansas Gas & Electric (KGE) and Kansas Power & Light Co. (KPL). Those two companies had combined in 1992 to form Western Resources. KGE had invested in the Wolf Creek nuclear plant (along with KCP&L and a rural cooperative), but KPL had not.
In my editorial I implied that the rate disparity was unfair, forcing customers to pay for decisions made by others long ago. To lend a human element to the controversy, I quoted an email message from a disgruntled KGE customer in Wichita to James Hoecker, chairman of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. All of this elicited a critical letter from KGE, reproduced verbatim below.
On Nov. 28, the Eagle reported that