Still languishing in a legally imposed "silent" period that runs until Dec. 10, Puget Sound Energy (PSE) nevertheless is keeping a busy pace preparing to make a deluge of key regulatory filings by the end of the year on its proposed $7.4 billion merger with a consortium of Australian and Canadian private equity interests bidding to take the Bellevue, WA-based utility private.

While the proposed private sector play announced in late October received some favorable early indicators from the Federal Trade Commission and federal Justice Department's antitrust division in late November, those are really "second tier" regulatory checkpoints, a PSE spokesperson told NGI Thursday. The major regulatory filings and eventual processes are still to come at the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Also in the preparation stages is a proxy statement for the shareholders of PSE's holding company, Puget Energy. A vote and meeting of shareholders on the issue most likely will be held in the first half of next year, said the PSE spokesperson, who said that since the Oct. 26 announcement there has been no organized opposition from the shareholder, consumer or legislative sectors.

In a statement issued within a day of the announcement, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire praised PSE for "a long record of being a good corporate citizen and providing Washington with an essential public service." Gregoire said she believed the utility "will continue to reflect our communities' values and will be able to invest in meeting the energy needs of Washingtonians."

Last October, Puget CEO Stephen Reynolds and the Australian-led private investment consortium touted their merger as a "sustainable model" for the energy industry to allow electric and natural gas utilities to come up with staggering new capital funding levels to meet future infrastructure needs to produce, transport and deliver energy to the nation's homes and businesses.

They were adamant that the deal does not require any change in the PSE utility rates. The level of investment to meet both reliability and global warming concerns in the energy industry, which is being pushed to higher operating standards by state and federal regulators, is what Reynolds called "unprecedented." Thus, he said, PSE thinks it is time to look at a "new model," and the proposed merger is a "marriage that makes infinite sense."

Macquarie Infrastructure Partners (MIP) is leading the private investment funds, and it has brought together Canadian-based investors in neighboring British Columbia and Alberta, provinces from which PSE already draws energy supplies.

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