Joplin, Mo.-based Empire District Electric Co., which has several hundred customers in rural northwest Arkansas, confirmed Sunday (Dec. 13) it has hired a financial advisor and is in the early stages of “exploring strategic opportunities” following speculation last week that the Missouri utility was on the block.
“It is the policy of The Empire District Electric Company not to confirm or deny market rumors. However, in response to recent media reports concerning the company and last Friday’s stock trading activity, Empire confirms that it is in the early stages of exploring strategic alternatives, and has retained a financial advisor with regard to the exploration of such strategic alternatives,” officials with the Joplin utility said in a statement Sunday evening.
Further, the investor-owned, regulated utility, which provides electric, natural gas and water service to nearly 218,000 customers in parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas, said its board has not made any decisions regarding the strategic alternatives.
“Due to the preliminary nature of this exploration, neither the Company nor any of its representatives will be providing additional comment at this time,” Empire said. “No assurances can be given that Empire’s Board of Directors will act on any specific strategic alternative. The company does not intend to make any further press release or announcement regarding these matters unless and until there is a material change in circumstances.”
In Friday’s rout on Wall Street after the Dow Jones closed down 300 points on oil market fears, Empire was one of the few bright spots on the New York Stock Exchange as its shares rose 8.3%, or 1.89 at $24.54. More than 1.7 million shares traded hands in the week session, nearly eight times the normal volume in the Missouri utility. The high interest in Empire District’s stock on Friday also pushed the little-known utility’s concern market cap just over the $1 billion mark.
In February, Empire filed a request with the Arkansas Public Service Commission to implement an environmental cost recovery rider for costs associated with new environmental facilities installed at the Asbury Power Plant in Jasper County, Mo.
That rider resulted in increase of nearly $3.93 a month for residential Arkansas customers using 1,000 kilowatt-hours of energy. Empire has approximately 4,400 customers in Arkansas. As part of Environmental Protection Agency regulations, Empire installed an air quality control system in the summer of 2014 to control sulfur dioxide, mercury and particulate matter emissions at the 189,000 kilowatt, coal-fired power plant in southwest corner of Missouri.