Spokane Journal of Business

WWP far exceeds goal for surplus power sales

Big utility sets 1997 target of $300 million in revenue from wholesale marketing

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After surpassing lofty goals for wholesale power sales last year, Washington Water Power Co. is raising the bar once again.

The Spokane company had projected it would sell $190 million worth of surplus electricity in 1996. It did that and moreracking up $230 million in such sales, more than double the $109 million worth it sold in 1995.

Now, the big utilitys just-released 1996 annual report says that WWP has set a target of more than $300 million in (wholesale-power) revenues in 1997as we move into markets beyond the West.

Dain Bosworth, the Minneapolis-based investment brokerage, says those markets are likely to include the Southeast and upper Midwest, both of which have relatively underdeveloped wholesale markets.

In a recent research report on WWP, the Minnesota securities firm says, We believe Washington Water Power is an innovative and well-managed company that is facing the transition to a competitive industry from a position of fundamental strength. Indeed, only four national power marketers (out of more than 200) sold more wholesale electricity during the first nine months of 1996 than WWP. The investment house says WWPs goal is to become the No. 3 player in the industry in wholesale-power sales.

The rich diggings of the wholesale market are one new frontier for utilities, but there are others, and WWP says its going to explore them.

In its recent annual report, WWP says, In 1998, California will become the earliest state to allow direct access to retail customers (for outside utilities). Weve joined with Southern California-based Mock Energy Services, adding their natural gas, fuel oil, and propane to our electrical power, to offer customers one-stop energy service. We wont be the biggest player, but by such strategic alliances, we can establish strong positions in this and other regions.

The company, which in another future-oriented thrust has been marketing energy-analysis services, also says it has developed an Internet site that allows energy users to make energy-cost comparisons in real time.

Over the last three years, WWPs wholesale-power marketing team has grown to 25 people from six, and last year, the companys wholesale-power sales eclipsed retail sales for the first time in our history, WWPs annual report says.

Yet, Dain Bosworth says the company faces some potential pitfalls in the wholesale-power market.

Strong pressure on profit margins in that market has the potential to have a greater effect on Water Powers earnings than (on) those of many other companies in the industry because of the large relative contribution from that business to WWPs earnings, the brokerage house says. It adds that several quite favorable WWP wholesale contracts will expire over the next two years.

As (WWP) rolls out of these contracts and sells the capacity at current prices, it will take significantly more volume to achieve similar profit levels, Dain Bosworth says.

Dain Bosworth, which issued its report before the stock markets recent slide, said that it saw WWPs shares as fairly valued at about $18.50 a share.

In another bit of news in WWPs annual report, the company says that Standard & Poors, the national financial rating service, has upgraded its securities from A- to A rating, the companys highest since 1979.

  • Richard Ripley

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