At what will likely be their last annual meeting, Washington Water Power Co. shareholders were given a vision for the future and a judgment of the recent past.
Chairman Paul Redmond said officials expect regulators to approve the company’s merger with Sierra Pacific Resources by the fall.
The new company, Resources Energy West, will supply electricity, natural gas and water to customers in six states across a total area almost the size of Oregon.
Energy West will become a benchmark for utilities nationally, Redmond said, noting that a recently announced merger of two Midwest utilities was nearly a carbon of the WWP-Sierra Pacific deal.
He said the company will keep hierarchy to a minimum and flexibility at a maximum in order to thrive in the intensely competitive energy markets of the future.
“We need to change,” he said. “We are going to build a world-class company.”
But one longtime shareholder, Bruce Tiffany, said WWP management has not done enough for shareholders in the last decade, when there has been no increase in dividends.
He scolded the company for keeping rates among the lowest in the country while inflation has eroded the dollar’s buying power by more than 30 percent.
The dividend’s shrinking purchasing power is “discouraging, depressing and frightening” to shareholders, many of whom are retired, Tiffany said.
In response, Redmond said raising rates could result in the loss of customers to any of more than 100 other companies now selling power in the Northwest.
“It would be contrary to shareholder value to raise the dividend,” he said.
After the meeting, Redmond declined comment on what discussions, if any, WWP and Sierra Pacific might have held with Puget Sound Power & Light Co.
Puget’s chairman indicated Wednesday the company would consider ventures with other utilities. Also, he announced termination of a power-purchase contract at the Colstrip generating plant, of which both Puget and WWP are part owners.