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Executives

Bill Moore - President & Chief Executive Officer

Mark Ruelle - Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer

Doug Sterbenz - Chief Operating Officer

Tony Somma - Treasurer

Analysts

Scott Engstrom - Blenom Capital Management

Darin Conti - Wachovia Securities

Bill Appacelli - Citi Investment Research

Ted Hine - Catapult Capital

Westar Energy, Inc. (WS) Q3 2007 Earnings Call November 2, 2007 11:00 AM ET

Operator

Good day ladies and gentlemen. And welcome to the third quarter 2007 Westar Energy earnings conference call. I would now like to turn the call over to Mr. Tony Somma, Treasurer of Westar Energy. Please proceed sir.

Tony Somma

Good morning. I'm Tony Somma, Treasurer of Westar Energy. Welcome to our third quarter 2007 earnings conference call. Before getting started, I'll direct you to the Safe Harbor disclosures regarding forward-looking statements that we may make during this call or that may be contained in our earnings release and materials that supplement the release. We posted the earnings release and the company's supplemental reporting materials on our website this morning at www.westarenergy.com.

The supplemental materials include information intended to assist investors in their analyst of Westar's financial release. It can be found under the investor presentations within the investor relations section of our website. The applicable Safe Harbor disclosures are presented at the end of the release.We filed our third quarter 2007 Form 10-Q this morning.

With that, I'll introduce Mark Ruelle, our Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer.

Mark Ruelle

Thank you for joining us this morning. On the call with me today in addition to Tony are Bill Moore, our President and Chief Executive Officer, Doug Sterbenz, our Chief Operating Officer, and other members of our senior management team. In addition to commenting on third quarter results, I'll provide updates on our regulatory matters and refresh 2007 earnings guidance. Then Bill will provide an update regarding our major construction projects and planning initiatives. After that, we'll be pleased to take your questions.

Today, we reported third quarter 2007 earnings of $91.5 million compared to the $89.8 million for the third quarter 2006. We experienced a nice increase in operating income but on our earnings per share basis, we saw slight decrease as a result of lower other income, higher interest expense and additional shares outstanding.

First, I'll address factors that served the increase earnings. Weather was warmer than last year and also above the 20-year average. We saw an increase in tariff-based wholesale sales due primarily to a long-term agreement we entered into with Mid-Kansas Electric Company in April.

And lastly, we experienced very strong wholesale results as a consequence both of excellent plant performance and a marketing team that was able to take advantage of favorable market conditions. This contributed to higher margins in both market-based sales and energy marketing.

Serving to reduce earnings, were higher maintenance expense, increased labor and employee benefits costs, less income from corporate-owned life insurance and higher interest expense. Tony will provide more detail on the items later in the call.

Now, let me turn to regulatory matters. As many of you are aware, we return to our customers as a credit to the retail cost of fuel, the margins we make on opportunistic or market-base wholesale sales made from power produced in our plants. The amount of credit is based on a three-year average. Starting in April of this year, we began to get credit about $40 million annually based on an average for the three years ending June 2006.

Due to our not having to conserve coal this year, favorable wholesome marketing and good plant performance, we have performed very well with respect to this market-based sales. That improves this year's earnings but also means that beginning in April of 2008, the amount of the credit in the fuel adjustment charge will be about $52 million, which raises the bar for next year.

The current methodology for returning to customer the margins we generate from such sales, creates the problem of either raising the bar every year or returning to customers more margins than we are actually able to produce. For that reason, we sought and the provision of a recent KCC's settlement calls for, a simpler means of calculating and making such credits. We intend to outline the precise mechanics that we will propose in a general rate filing we plan to make next spring. Meanwhile, we will explore various options with the KCC staff.

On October 1st, we announced tentative agreements relating to wind projects that will almost double the state's present wind resources. We expect to add about 300 megawatts through these agreements, half of which we propose to own and half of which we intend to purchase through supplied agreements. Under the same Kansas statute we used prior to beginning construction of imported energy standard, we have filed with the KCC a request for predetermination of the rate making principles associated with these agreements.

We have asked the KCC to issue its decision before year-end so we can proceed with our plans to get the wind energy online before the end of 2008. The KCC set a procedural schedule that calls for hearings the first week of December.

The continue to tie up loose ends following the remand of our last rate order, which the KCC issued in December of 2005. Following a challenge to that order, the Court of Appeals remanded matters back to the KCC for resolution. On July 31st, the KCC issued its order on the remand. It quantified our refund obligation related to amounts previously collected from customers, established the amounts of transmission cost to be included in the retail rates perspectively and established a process by which we intend to implement a separate transmission delivery charge. The final step to complete the unbundling of transmission cost as permitted by Kansas statute.

This statute allowed us to establish a separate transmission delivery charge based on FERC-approved rate. We plan to file in the near future for the mechanism to permit annual adjustments to retail rates that correspond to changes in our FERC formula transmission rates.

We wish this matter were finally close with the same parties who appealed to KCC's original rate order have again appealed to KCC's remand decision to the Court of Appeals. That matter is set for hearing in January.

With regard to our FERC formula rate, we intend to in the near future to file with the FERC requests for inclusion of Order 679 incentives related to our major transmission projects. Among allowed incentives are recovery of [seawep] and rate base, higher allowed return on equity and accelerated depreciation.

Now, let me comment on 2007 earnings. As stated in our press release, we affirmed our 2007 guidance of $1.63 to $1.78 per share. Were we to receive COLI income and if we were to realize additional value from tax assets, we would likely be toward the upper end of our stated earnings range. Recall that last year, we received COLI income of $16.4 million for the full year, which is well above the budgeted amount. This year, our guidance included about $10 million for COLI, but to date, we have only received about $700,000. Our ability to achieve earnings in accordance with guidance is dependent on a number of variables other than COLI, including weather, operation of our generating plants, prices in fuel and wholesale power markets and the funding of our planned capital program, among other factors.

Now I'll let Tony discuss in greater detail our second quarter results and our capitalization.

Tony Somma

Thanks Mark. Assuming everyone has access to our release and earnings packet, let me just touch on a few highlights rather than recite what is in the release and the other materials.

Retail revenues increased by $7.7 million, due largely to warmer weather than last year. Tariff-based wholesale sales increased $12 million, primarily resulting from the long-term wholesale agreement we entered into with Mid-Kansas Electric Company. This agreement relates to additional 8% leasehold interest in the Jeffrey Energy Center we acquired in from Aquila in April. Energy marketing benefited from favorable pricing in the wholesale markets and increased sales volumes compared with last year.

Third quarter 2007 operating expenses increased $21.6 million, excluding fuel and purchase power expense which largely recovered through the fuel clause, operating expenses increased $7.9 million. The increase is due primarily to higher maintenance costs at our power plants and across our distribution system, higher labor and employee benefits cost and increased southwest powerful transmission costs, which are largely offset by additional transmission revenues.

The cost of fuel and purchase power to serve our customers increased by $30 million but this cost was partially offset by a $16.3 million deferral for future recoveries through the fuel adjustment clause. Depreciation and amortization expense was $2.5 million lower than last year. As a result of our having excluded from depreciation expense this year $4.8 million, related to terminal and salvage value partially offset by an increase of $2.3 million related to plant additions.

Other income and expense decreased $3.5 million compared with 2006, primarily from lower income from corporate-owned life insurance this year. Interest expense increased $3.1 million compared with 2006, increase is due primarily to $1.3 million attributable to the reclassification this year of interest expense of accrued interest on tax liabilities, which we previously recorded as part of income tax expense. And $1.8 million for interest on the capital lease associated with 8% leasehold interest in Jeffrey Energy Center we acquired this spring. Finally income tax expense for the quarter was $2.7 million higher due primarily to higher taxable income.

The amounts for all these items are delineated on page five of the supplemental earnings packet located within the investor presentation on our website.

As we have shared with investors our construction program for this year and the foreseeable future is very large relative to our size. This means we will be accessing the capital markets periodically for both debt and equity. On October 15th we completed the sale of $175 million of KGE 30-year first mortgage bonds with a coupon of 6.5%.

With respect to equity in late August, we entered into a new agreement that allows us to periodically sell up to $200 million of common stock. Under this agreement through late October, we sold about 784,000 shares, raising $20 million on an average price of $25.52 per share excluding a 1% commission. We may use this for other means of raising equity in the future. Our long-term target capitalization remains about 50% debt and 50% equity.

Now let me introduce Bill Moore, our President and CEO.

Bill Moore

Thanks, Tony and thank all of you for joining us this morning. Before we go to your questions, let me update you on several of our major construction projects and then discuss the basis for our planning initiatives.

We are making good progress on the scrubber project at the Jeffrey Energy Center. All significant contracts have been executed and the project is on schedule, albeit a very tight schedule, for the first unit scrubber system to be operational the spring of 2008.

The second system should follow in the fall of 2008, with the last of the three units planned for operation in the spring of 2009. The estimated cost of retrofitting all three units at Jeffrey remains at about $360 million.

Progress also continues on our [Emporia] energy center, a 600-megawatt gas fired peaking plant. About half of the turbine generators for Phase I have been delivered, the project remains within budget and on schedule for the first phase of 300-megawatts to begin commercial operations about May 2008. The remaining 300 megawatts in Phase II are scheduled for commercial operations one year later, about May 2009.

With respect to transmission projects, the engineering design phase for our new 345 KV transmission line from near Wichita to Salina is nearly complete. In addition, we have nearly completed the acquisition of rights of way for the first leg of about 43 miles between northwest Wichita and Hutchison and the projected end service date for this leg may be as early as late 2008. We expect to energize the second leg of about 54 miles from near Hutchison to Salina by late 2009.

When we consider the final route selected by the KCC, the rebuilding of existing 138 and 115 KV underbill and the design that makes the structures easier for landowners to accept, we anticipate the cost to be a bit above $150 million for the entire Wichita to Salina route.

While the estimate for this signal, single project is higher than previously discussed, when one considers the overall size of our construction program, we did not feel it was necessary to update our projected capital expenditure table, as a result of this single change.

Over the period 2007 through 2009, we will no doubt experience other adjustments as well to the total spend. We have also begun planning for a 345 KV transmission line running from near Wichita, south to connect with OG&E at the Oklahoma border. We expect to file a siting request for this line shortly. We continue to evaluate other transmission projects in Kansas as well, particularly in light of our plans for more wind resources.

As Mark mentioned, we have entered into tentative agreements to develop 300 megawatts of wind generation. These agreements are contingent on the KCC's approval of our request for predetermination. Our target is to have 500 megawatts of wind by end of 2010. Expect us to begin the process to add another 200 megawatts of renewable resources sometime next year, as we strive for that target. Our ability to take on this much wind and integrate it into our system is something enabled by our strong high quality base load resources. We are excited to be able to do this and to be a large part of making Kansas one of the highest per capita renewable energy states in the nation.

All of this means, that 2008 will be a watershed year with respect to our growth plan, but an unremarkable year for earnings.

Most of the street estimates indicate softness in our earnings next year. Recognizing that we have made many of the outlays for our growth plan, issuing shares in new debt and incurring depreciation expense without yet having these new investments reflected in rates. We expect our investment in new sources of power generation to be reflected in our rates in early 2009, after the KCC issues an order in next year's planned rate case.

Meanwhile, we will recover significant expenditures for environmental compliance and new transmission investment, plus fuel costs, through KCC-approved riders. Our typical practice is to issue annual guidance once our budget planning is complete, which means sometime early next year. You can expect us to say more about the expected level of 2008 earnings per share.

If I might switch gears for a moment, I would like to share with you our approach to planning and what we consider to be uncertain times. Many, if not most utilities, have large growth plans. There are two things I think that set Westar apart from our peers.

The first is that our growth plan does not put all of our eggs in one basket; rather, we are taking a diversified approach. In our immediate plans, you see a large commitment to renewables and energy efficiency programs. Expansion of our transmission system, retrofits to our existing base-load plants and because we currently use natural gas so sparingly, a larger commitment to gas-peaking generation. This same plan might not work for others, but after a careful inventory of our situation and circumstances, we concluded this is the best approach for our customers and our investors.

Secondly, we have developed this plan in close cooperation and collaboration with regulators and policy makers. Before we could make these kinds of commitments to serve our customers into the future, it was imperative that we had a more clear, more constructive path to recovery and rates.

If you were unfamiliar with what our regulators, legislators and we, have accomplished to accommodate this type of planning, I invite you to look at one of our recent investor presentations that are on our website.

Many on our team have been around long enough to remember the good and the bad from the last round of construction of this size and scope. I am confident that we have taken lessons from the 1980s construction programs to heart and I'm excited about our prospects for the future.

We are now ready for questions from the financial community.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Your first question comes from the line of Mr. Scott Engstrom of Blenom Capital Management. Please proceed.

Scott Engstrom - Blenom Capital Management

Good morning, guys.

Mark Ruelle

Good morning, Scott.

Scott Engstrom - Blenom Capital Management

Just a quick question on your, I guess, you're talking about the rest of the year, fourth quarter. The fourth quarter of last year, COLI, was that about a half million dollars?

Mark Ruelle

We want stick that up. We had total COLI of $16.4 million last year. Year-to-date this year, were at only $700. Year-to-date was $15.5 million, lands to three quarters last year, so it’s about $900K.

Scott Engstrom - Blenom Capital Management

Okay. And you had $0.15 was the total earnings for last year's fourth quarter.

Mark Ruelle

I think it was for the full year, Scott.

Scott Engstrom - Blenom Capital Management

No, I'm sorry, $0.15 was the consolidated earnings number for the last year's fourth quarter.

Mark Ruelle

Yeah, that's correct.

Scott Engstrom - Blenom Capital Management

Yeah. And it included roughly a million dollars of COLI.

Mark Ruelle

Right. If I recall, it also included a pretty sizable mark-to-market gain that hit like on the last day of the year, a million dollar of pre-tax.

Scott Engstrom - Blenom Capital Management

I want just kind of my other question. Looking, I mean, I know you mentioned COLI as a big factor for the year. But just thinking about the quarter, you're already at $1.71 for the year in 2007 which is, I think, the midpoint to getting into the high end of your range.

Just wondering if there are other factors that are going to keep fourth quarter earnings this year down relative to last year?

Bill Moore

Scott, you know, typically the fourth quarter is not a very strong quarter for Westar. We obviously are a summer electric utility and third quarter is our big quarter. Factors that go into our fourth quarter, other than COLI, as you mentioned, would be market based sales and we run models on our market based wholesale sales and given where the price tag was when we ran our numbers for our last outlook for our year to go, prices were relatively soft and that could be a swing.

If prices go softer, it's going to be a little leaner quarter. If prices are up, then it will be a little bit better quarter than we had, then we're anticipating, which is why we have the language we're going to be toward the upper end of the range. Which means we could be at it or slightly above it, depending on other variables.

Scott Engstrom - Blenom Capital Management

Okay, so it's not a planned outage, there aren't some outages, its more market based that's really going to be the driving factor in the quarter.

Bill Moore

That and, you know, spending on O&M.

Scott Engstrom - Blenom Capital Management

Okay. Great. Thanks, guys. See you in Florida.

Bill Moore

Look forward to it.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Mr. Darin Conti of Wachovia Securities. Please proceed.

Darin Conti - Wachovia Securities

Good morning.

Bill Moore

Good morning.

Darin Conti - Wachovia Securities

I just wanted to follow-up on the last question. I was a little bit puzzled by the, I guess, the Q4 guidance as well. I think I understand a little bit better based on the answers you just gave, but just wanted to follow up on a couple of things. What do you expect for the tax rate in Q4 and then what kind of additional share issuance are you planning or what's your target for '07 as far as issuance goes?

Mark Ruelle

Darin, this is Mark. I'll let Tony talk about tax. But I'll talk a little bit about our equity issuance. We’ve told people that our long-term capitalization targets are 50/50. And that means we intend to finance the business with a combination on the equity side of retained earnings and new equity issuance and on the liability side with the issuance of long-term debt. So, we haven't changed any of those plans. Obviously, it's important that you get your company capitalized at the appropriate level about the time that you reset rates. So we have shared with people that they should expect us from time to time to be in the market and issue equity.

But we've also said that our approach to issuing equity is one that is opportunistic. In that we will look at various means of doing so, whether it be a secondary offering, whether it be something we do with a primary forward offering or whether we would do something with a continuous equity offering.

And as Tony indicated in August, we actually filed for up to $200 million program for a continuous equity offering of which we have only taken down 20 million. We obviously haven't said exactly when we'll issue that, but we tried to be as candid as possible about our need for equity to finance our construction program.

Darin Conti - Wachovia Securities

Okay and the tax rate?

Tony Somma

Darin, this is Tony. On the tax rate, it's not an absolute calculation. There’s many variable that is going through it. One of the things we talked about was COLI. A couple other items that you know, early this year we sold some emission allowances and that capital gain is offset by prior period capital losses. And so that drives our tax rate down as well. We have no plan to sell emission allowances, it was more opportunistic. And I would say our year-to-date tax rate of about 24% compares roughly with what we had last year, maybe a little bit higher of 23%. And it's difficult to predict the quarter, depending on if we sell emission allowances or if COLI proceeds come in.

Darin Conti - Wachovia Securities

Okay. So it sounds like that's a big variable, maybe that's why you're leaving the range as wide as it is for '07.

Mark Ruelle

That's why we stated is. Which is, you know, the things that can cause earnings to be unexpectedly higher or not are many things, but the two principle ones are things we don't control particularly, which is COLI, which as Tony indicated not only produces income, but affects our effective tax rate.

And then also the possibility that we’re able to realize additional value from a more sizable tax assets. We're not trying to be coy, it's just that those are harder things to predict. And in fact, those of you that followed us last year, know that we didn't do a very good job of predicting our fourth quarter. But you know what we know. It's just a matter of having some unpredictability in some of the elements.

Darin Conti - Wachovia Securities

Okay. Fair enough, one other question. I apologize if you talked about this already. I got on the call a bit late. I wanted to see, I guess, if the you could maybe talk about your potential interest in this new V transmission project in Kansas, I think it's 180-mile line proposed by ITC, could you just talk about …

Mark Ruelle

Sure, this is Mark. I'll turn it over to Kelly Harrison who is our Vice President of transmission environmental and Kelly can talk generally about our transmission plans, the products we have under way, as well as some of our interests in the region.

Kelly Harrison

Yeah, as far as this announcement it came out this last week with the Southwest power pool. In fact, what they did was basically say that these two projects out in Western Kansas do not have any negative consequences to the system and we feel that is a positive step and it's consistent with what our interests are.

We've talked about, I don't know if you got on the phone call to hear about what the update is for our current projects, but the Wichita to Hutchison to Salina line are coming along quite well. The first leg, we've got almost all of the right-of-way purchased without condemnation and as far as the Wichita to Ojini to the Oklahoma borderline, we are getting ready to file our siting application here soon.

Darin Conti - Wachovia Securities

Okay. And so with this new potential project, do you have to get to the commission for approval or what would be the kind of time line or steps for that?

Kelly Harrison

Any 345 KV project in Kansas we are required to go to the KCC for siting authority. Once we file the siting application, the commission has 120 days to respond. That's kind of the regulatory standpoint.

Darin Conti - Wachovia Securities

Okay. You haven't indicated any sort of time line when you might go to them for an update on transmission investment?

Kelly Harrison

You say an update on transmission investment, I'm not sure I follow.

Darin Conti - Wachovia Securities

I mean, have you talked about when you might approach this, the KCC for this project?

Kelly Harrison

Which project are you talking about?

Darin Conti - Wachovia Securities

The 180-mile V.

Kelly Harrison

No, we have not.

Darin Conti - Wachovia Securities

Okay. Okay. That's what I wanted to know. Thank you.

Operator

And your next question comes from the line of Mr. Bill Appacelli of Citi Investment Research. Please proceed.

Bill Appacelli - Citi Investment Research

Good morning.

Bill Moore

Good morning.

Bill Appacelli - Citi Investment Research

I just wondered if you guys could comment quickly on the terms of the wind agreements that you signed into in regards to the timing of the predetermination, so should the KCC may be take a little longer, you know, not resolve the issue until January or something like that, is there any issue in terms of the timing and when build can start or the cost?

Bill Moore

Sure. We'll let Doug Sterbenz, our COO and Mike Lennen our VP of regulatory address that.

Doug Sterbenz

In essence, this is Doug Sterbenz, in essence, we have all the agreements signed for the 300 megawatts that we spoke about which can be on line before the end of 2008. It is important that the KCC operate within the request that we have and that is currently set to have a decision by the end of this year.

Any delay to that could put jeopardy on these projects actually being installed by the end of 2008. And the biggest risk factor with that, and what is also contingent upon, is the production tax credit. Of course which are set to expire on projects that are not installed by the end of 2008.

So that really is the reason we're asking for a preapproval on an accelerated schedule if you will for the KCC. The KCC has put a schedule in place that is conducive to reaching a decision by the end of 2008 and we expect that that will happen.

Bill Appacelli - Citi Investment Research

Okay. You mean a decision by the end of 2007 right?

Doug Sterbenz

Yes, I'm sorry, by the end of 2007, yes. So the projects can indeed be installed by the end of 2008.

Bill Moore

Bill Moore, more generally the predetermination statute is a six-month clock. And we, because of the circumstances Bill mentioned, we have asked the commission for expedited treatment. We were pleased that they set it for schedule as quickly as they have because we think it does allow for a good decision and a timely decision rather that accommodates the '08 in service.

Bill Appacelli - Citi Investment Research

Okay. They're aware of this whole issue.

Bill Moore

Certainly. Certainly. We asked them for expedited treatment. That puts a lot of work on their side of the table. But we're pleased that they set it for hearing and appear to be understanding of that schedule.

Bill Appacelli - Citi Investment Research

Okay. And then just additionally on that, about filing in the next rate case to pull in the winds, does the wind actually needs to be -- can you just review that for me again about whether or not it needs to be in full operation for it to be, is it qualify as the rate base. I know you get some kind of forward-looking pull-in?

Mike Lennen

This is Mike Lennen. I would comment on it this way. In the predetermination application, one of the factors that we ask the commission to address was the timing of the recovery of wind generation investment and we asked that amounts that had been invested up to four months before the decision date for the commission and that would be dependent a little bit as to when we actually file the rate case, that the amount of that investment would be included for recovery.

So we should know, as a result of the commission's predetermination decision, whether they are receptive to that. Just to be, I’ll give you a concrete illustration of that, Bill, if we were to file the case, say, in May by statutory clock, the commission would issue its order in December and so what we have asked for in the wind case is that we could update the rate base for the wind through August, if assuming those starting and end date.

Bill Appacelli - Citi Investment Research

Okay. Great. Thank you.

Operator

And your next question comes from the line of Mr. Ted Hine of Catapult Capital. Please proceed.

Ted Hine - Catapult Capital

Good morning.

Bill Moore

Good morning.

Ted Hine - Catapult Capital

Just a quick follow-up on Bill's question about the wind, if you use that time frame that you were just using, Mark, about getting all the wind rate based that was put into service in August in your filing, how much of the -- if you kind of look at your current schedule, how much of the spend of the 300-megawatts do you think you will have spent by August?

Mark Ruelle

That's a good question. We don't know, Ted. We've been working pretty closely with the developers to try and get an understanding of that too. And of course, those kind of conversation quickly, start discussing well, it depends on how much rain we get, when we get our supplies and everything.

But they understand that '08 is the in-service date. Once you start building these things, they go pretty quickly. But we don't have a good answer for you as to how much is done, say, by August in the illustration I gave.

Ted Hine - Catapult Capital

Okay. Fair enough. Thank you.

Operator

At this time, there are no further questions in the queue. I would like to turn the call back over to Mr. Bill Moore. Please proceed, sir.

Bill Moore

Well, we look forward to seeing you all at the Edison Electric Institute Conference here in Florida next week. We hope you'll see us and visit with us and ask your questions there. We thank you for joining us this morning.

And if you have follow-up questions, please contact Bruce Burns, our Director of Investor Relations, at 785-575-8227. Thank you for being with us this morning.

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