July 15, 2008

Aquila Operations Have New Owner Adobe Flash Player 9 is Required to View This Video A Lawrence-Based Natural Gas Operation Today is Under New Ownership, and Its Employees Have a New Boss.

By Mark Fagan, Journal-World, Lawrence, Kan.

Jul. 15--Aquila's natural gas operations in Kansas and Colorado -- operations that are based in Lawrence -- are under new ownership and are working under a new manager.

Black Hills Corp. officially acquired the utility operations Monday, and the Lawrence office at 110 E. Ninth St. welcomed a new boss: Ivan Vancas, vice president for natural gas operations in Kansas and Colorado.

He said that Black Hills would work to support both economic-development and public-service initiatives in its many communities, including Lawrence, while retaining much of what customers long have come to demand.

"Our customers can continue to expect superior customer service and the hometown feel to the service we provide," said Vancas, who most recently had been in charge of Aquila's electric operations in Kansas City, Mo.

Monthly bills also will not change significantly as a result of the acquisition, other than a new name appearing at the top. Administrative and other costs that get passed along to customers will remain frozen for at least the next three years, as part of an agreement with regulators.

The market price the utility pays for natural gas still can change, and those fluctuating charges still may be passed along to customers.

"We look forward to controlling our costs and making sure that our customers are getting affordable energy," Vancas said.

Vancas takes over for Chuck Loomis, who moved to a new leadership post handling electric operations for Black Hills in parts of Wyoming and western South Dakota. Black Hills is based in Rapid City, S.D.

The change in ownership comes months after regulators started poring over details of the sale to Black Hills and another, larger, transaction for Aquila to sell its electric assets in Missouri to Great Plains Energy Inc., parent company of Kansas City Power & Light.

Those deals closed Monday morning. The $1.7 billion sale of electric assets included Aquila's corporate operations In Kansas City, Mo., and led to about 200 layoffs that had been announced months ago, Vancas said. None of the layoffs involved gas operations.

Black Hills paid $940 million to acquire the natural gas operations of Aquila in Kansas, Colorado, Iowa and Nebraska, plus electric operations in Colorado. The acquired utilities now operate as Black Hills Energy, the name that will appear on the next round of customer bills and will, during the next several months, replace Aquila on company signs, trucks and office stationery.

The Kansas and Colorado operations remain based out of the familiar Aquila office in downtown Lawrence. Black Hills is neither changing its number of employees in town nor its employee count statewide or in Colorado.

Black Hills has 35 employees in Lawrence, part of the 116 statewide. Another 63 work in Colorado.

Black Hills' new natural gas customers include 107,000 customers in 54 Kansas communities, including Lawrence. The new phone number for the company's 24-hour customer service line is (888) 890-5554; the number for emergency service is (800) 694-8989.

Customers still can access their accounts online at www.aquila.com, until the Web site's information is integrated into www.blackhillscorp.com in the near future.


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Copyright (c) 2008, Journal-World, Lawrence, Kan.

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