South Dakota-based NorthWestern Corp. saw consolidated net income rise $55.2 million for 2005 when special items relating to its Chapter 11 filing are excluded. Gross margin growth at all four operating segments and decreased interest expense were credited.

On a consolidated net income basis, including the one-time bankruptcy effect in 2004, 2005 results were $59.5 million, or $1.65/diluted share, compared with consolidated net income of $544.4 million in 2004, of which $532.6 million was associated with the bankruptcy emergence, the company said.

In regard to competing public and private sector plays for NorthWestern by neighboring Black Hills Corp. and a coalition of cities in Montana that have formed a public organization, NorthWestern reported that the company has entered confidentiality agreements with “a select number of parties and the formal due diligence with those parties has begun.” While, the company’s board could make a decision at the end of the process, NorthWestern also said that the board has informed the parties that “it may terminate process at any time and that there is no guarantee that any transaction will take place.”

NorthWestern CEO Michael Hanson called the 2005 results “exceptional,” and he attributed them to what he called “the successful restructuring across all core areas of the business; our regulated and unregulated businesses performed well.”

NorthWestern’s consolidated revenues for 2005 were $1.2 billion, a 12.2% increase, compared to $1 billion in 2004. The increase was primarily due to the higher wholesale energy costs that are passed through to the customers in the regulated natural gas and electric businesses.

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