The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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September 6, 2013

BENCO to get new customers

Alliant selling its electricity, natural gas businesses

MANKATO — A Mankato-based electric cooperative plans on getting about 4,600 new customers next year if a proposed sale of Alliant Energy’s Minnesota electricity and natural gas assets is approved by regulators.

Alliant’s 43,000 electricity customers in Minnesota will be distributed among 12 electric cooperatives, one of which is BENCO Electric, General Manager Wade Hensel said.

Other cooperatives to get new customers are based in Jordan, St. James, Sleepy Eye and elsewhere.

BENCO has acquired new members in recent years but they are using less energy.

“This will allow us to grow and spread our costs among more members and sales,” Hensel said.

BENCO members to-be live mainly in Faribault County, as well as towns along Highway 169 such as Winnebago, Amboy and Elmore.

Alliant also is selling natural gas infrastructure that serves about 10,600 natural gas companies to a subsidiary of Integrys Energy Group Inc. In total, the deal is worth about $128 million, Alliant said in a news release.

Of that total, BENCO is responsible for about 15.75 percent, Hensel said. The cooperative’s existing customers will benefit from the growth, he said, but it’s harder to say what will happen to the new customers.

This is because Alliant’s electricity customers will move to one of the 12 cooperatives involved in the deal, each of which has its own rates. Alliant also said that its employees will have new jobs with the cooperatives.

“The PUC (Public Utilities Commission) process will certainly have something to say about it (electricity rates),” Hensel said.

In a news release, the president of Alliant’s Minnesota and Iowa utility, Tom Aller, said the company expects “long-term customer benefits from the efficiencies achieved by combining our customer base with those of the purchasing utilities.”

Regulators are likely to take between six months and a year to examine the proposed deal, Hensel said.

The deal only covers transmission assets such as substations and power lines, not power plants, he said.

Hensel said the cooperatives have been seeking this sale for many years but declined to speak for Alliant as to why they agreed to the deal now.

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