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Massachusetts settlement seen as possible for NU deal: NStar CFO  

Credit:  Lisa Wood, Platts, www.platts.com 28 January 2011 ~~

NStar expects a ruling from Massachusetts regulators in the third quarter of 2011 on its merger with Northeast Utilities, but during an earnings presentation Friday left open the possibility of a settlement with significant parties in the state.

Connecticut-based Northeast Utilities plans to acquire Massachusetts-based NStar in a $4.2 billion deal that will create the largest utility in New England.

“We do have a history on settling issues over the years. Our track record of trying to reach a settlement speaks for itself,” said James Judge, NStar senior vice president and chief financial officer.

He added that the merger is still early in the review process and it is unclear whether there will be a settlement.

A total of 16 parties have won approval to intervene in Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities hearings. The utility expects a decision in the third quarter of 2011, which would pave the way for the deal to close in the second half of the year.

A controversy has emerged over the possibility of Massachusetts requiring that NStar demonstrate the merger will help the state achieve its aggressive green energy goals.

The state Department of Energy Resources is pushing for such a review. But foes of the Cape Wind project say they fear the requirement will lead to a state-forced power purchase contract between NStar and the 130-turbine offshore wind farm.

The DPU has opened a proceeding to see if advancing clean energy goals fits within the state’s “no net harm” standard for mergers. The standard requires that utilities show that the public interest be at least as well served by approval of a deal as by its denial, according to a DPU notice.

NStar earlier Friday reported earnings of $46.7 million for the fourth quarter of 2010, compared with $47.6 million in the year-ago period. Its electric sales were up for the third consecutive quarter, which Judge attributed to improving economic conditions in the Boston area.

Source:  Lisa Wood, Platts, www.platts.com 28 January 2011

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