The merger between Utah Power & Light Co. and PacifiCorp didn't make the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's Wednesday agenda, making it nearly impossible to complete the merger before a self-imposed Aug. 12 deadline.
After Wednesday, FERC members won't meet again until Sept. 14 and neither utility has had any indication a special meeting would be held before then to deal specifically with the merger."Special meetings are rare," a FERC spokesman said Tuesday, noting last minute agenda changes do occur, but it would be "highly unusual for (the merger) to be put on the agenda at this point."
That doesn't mean, however, the $1.8 billion marriage between UP&L and PacifiCorp is off, despite an Aug. 12 deadline imposed by the companies when announcing their merger plans.
Directors for both utilities will meet in August - UP&L's board will convene on Aug. 17 - to decide on extending the deadline and indications are the companies will see the merger through the federal hearings.
"It doesn't make much sense to drop a deal when you've got approvals of two sets of shareholders and seven state jurisdictions," UP&L spokesman John Ward said.
PacifiCorp has taken a similar stance and expressed confidence the work will pay off. "We ultimately believe FERC will approve the merger," spokesman Jack Vogel said.
If approved, the merger would create an $8 billion utility, serving more than 1 million customers in seven states. Both UP&L and PacifiCorp claim their union would save them $500 million the first five years, resulting in UP&L rates dropping 5-10 percent.
Both utilities have so far won the approval of regulators in the seven states. The Utah Public Service Commission gave its approval two weeks ago in an interim order designed to send FERC a signal of the states' support of the merger.
If FERC approved the merger, the decision would overturn a federal administrative law judge's recommendation against it.
The initial decision, which brought a rapid approval schedule to a sudden halt, blasted the merger proposal as ill-conceived, anti-competitive and not in the public interest.
Observers said judge George P. Lewnes' exhaustive opinion, along with a voluminous docket already on file, would make it difficult for federal regulators to make a final ruling by the August deadline.
FERC's legal staff has filed a brief with the commission, taking exception to judge George P. Lewnes' recommendation. Utah's Division of Public Utilities joined in the brief in saying Lewnes erred on several grounds.
If FERC does overturn Lewnes' decision, which is not unlikely,final approval could still be far off as opponents to the merger said they will appeal to the federal court system.
Nor have UP&L and PacifiCorp ruled out appealing a decision not in their favor.
"We are bringing all of our resources to bear in getting this merger approved by the commission and we will continue to press forward doing that," Ward said.