Commentary: Did the KCC Open the Door for Berkshire to Make a Bid for Westar Energy?

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

On April 19, the Kansas Corporation Commission torpedoed the planned acquisition of Westar Energy by Great Plains Energy.

Westar is the largest electric utility in Kansas and the combined companies would have served approximately 950,000 Kansas customers.

The KCC rejected the merger as bad for consumers, and noted what they called an excessive purchase price, requiring GPE to take on significant debt. They noted that the $4.9 billion acquisition premium exceeded GPE’s $4.8 billion market capitalization by $100 million.

With the merger dead, the big question is whether it opens the door for Berkshire Hathaway Energy to make another run at Westar Energy. BHE was in the running the last time around.

Westar Energy is a Natural Fit for Berkshire

With a market cap of roughly $7 billion, Westar is in the same price range as NV Energy, which Berkshire acquired in December 2013 for $5.6 billion.

In addition to just adding to Berkshire’s energy assets, the acquisition makes sense geographically. BHE has already partnered with Westar on Prairie Wind Transmission, LLC, a 108-mile, 345-kilovolt high-capacity electrical transmission line in south-central Kansas that was completed in 2014.

If BHE proves to be interested, it may face competing bids from Ameren Corporation, as well as an investor consortium that includes Borealis Infrastructure Management Inc. and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

Both Ameren and the CPPIB were interested in Westar before the Great Plains merger was signed, and they may again return to the bidding.

Like BHE, Ameren’s service area in neighboring Missouri also fits well with Westar, which provides power for approximately 687,000 customers in much of east and east-central Kansas.

Unlike Great Plains Energy, BHE’s financial strength may enable it to overcome the KCC’s concerns, and add another valuable energy asset to Berkshire’s portfolio.

© 2017 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.