Last week was busy for MidAmerican Energy Holdings, as it movedcloser to completing its sale to Berkshire Hathaway Inc. while alsoannouncing intentions to step up efforts in Illinois’ retail energymarket. Once the merger is finalized, the parent of a utilityserving 653,000 electric customers and 622,000 gas customers inIowa and Illinois will become a privately-held company.

MidAmerican anticipates receiving all required approvals for thesale in the first quarter of this year. The transaction is stillsubject to clearance by the Iowa Utilities Board, the NuclearRegulatory Commission and receipt of satisfactory evidence that theinvestor group members and affiliates will not be subject toregulation as a registered public utility holding company underPublic Utility Holdings Company Act of 1935. MidAmerican previouslyannounced approvals of the merger by FERC and the Illinois CommerceCommission and the early termination of the Hart-Scott-Rodino Actwaiting period granted by the FTC.

The sale and purchase agreement was first announced last October(see NGI, Nov. 1). The move would give Berkshire, a holding companyprimarily involved in the property and casualty insurancebusinesses, its first ownership of an energy company.

Yet the Bershire business was not the only item on the agenda ofMidAmerican last week. Building on a partnership forged lastSeptember with the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, MidAmerican Energyannounced a dual offer to customers in Nicor Gas’ customer choicepilot program and Commonwealth Edison’s electric pilot program.

Through the agreement, the chamber will promote MidAmerican’soffer to attach a 5% discount on both electric and gas bills tothose customers that switch to MidAmerican service. The discount isa guaranteed deduction from the annual rate of a customer’s bill.Chamber members can contact the Chamber Energy Alliance — theentity created by the partnership — to take advantage of thisoffer.

“This is our first major effort to expand our customer basethrough this pilot program,” said Todd Raba, vice president ofmarketing and sales for MidAmerican. He added that the companycurrently only has a handful of gas customers signed.

Nicor’s choice program started in January 1998 and will end inApril 2001. Currently, Nicor is holding the last enrollment periodof the program, which ends at the end of March. It is open to allof Nicor’s 120,000 business customers and residential customers infour counties. So far, over 40,000 business customers and more than23,000 residential customers have enrolled. There are 15 companiesparticipating in the pilot.

Roughly one-third of Illinois businesses became eligible tochoose an electricity supplier on Oct. 1 thanks to Illinois statelaw. Another 33% of manufacturing customers in the currentCommonwealth Edison service territory will be eligible by June. Allremaining businesses in downstate Illinois will be eligible by theend of this year, MidAmerican said.

John Norris

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