Great Plains $8.6 Billion Westar Buy Subject of U.S. Review

  • Justice Department has requested documents, information
  • Missouri utility commission staff recommending state review

Westar Energy Inc. disclosed on Tuesday that its $8.6 billion proposed takeover by Great Plains Energy Inc. is being investigated by U.S. regulators.

The Justice Department sent the Topeka, Kansas-based utility owner a letter in June asking for “certain documents and information,” Westar said in a filing. Westar and Great Plains, based in Kansas City, Missouri, are fully cooperating and expect their merger to be cleared of any antitrust concerns, the company said.

The disclosure comes less than a week after the staff of Missouri’s utility commission argued that the merger should also be subject to a state review, threatening to hold up a transaction that Westar and Great Plains have been expecting to close by the middle of next year. The Justice Department has reviewed utility mergers in the past, including Duke Energy Corp.’s takeover of Progress Energy Inc. in 2012.

“It’s hard to say whether this is out of the ordinary -- there hasn’t been an issue with the Department of Justice that’s really made a big difference certainly since Duke and Progress,” Bloomberg Intelligence utility analyst Kit Konolige said by phone Tuesday. “I would’ve thought this was small enough that something like this wouldn’t happen, but obviously they’re looking at it.”

Last week, the staff of Missouri’s Public Service Commission said in a report that Great Plains should be ordered to seek approval from the agency as a condition to the merger’s closing. It warned that the transaction, as proposed, may lead to higher electricity rates and would threaten the operational efficiency of its Great Plains’ Kansas City Power & Light Co. utility.

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