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MDU Resources Group CEO Dave Goodin addresses shareholders at the company's annual meeting in Bismarck on Tuesday.

MDU Resources Group Inc. CEO Dave Goodin touted the company’s improved economic performance and predictions for continued success during the corporation’s annual shareholder meeting held in Bismarck on Tuesday.

In the first quarter of 2018, the company had earnings of $41.9 million, or 22 cents per share, compared to first quarter 2017 earnings of $35.5 million.

“We anticipate our earnings per share to be, at a minimum, where we ended last year and actually could be as high as $1.45 per share. So I think that’s an indication of how we're leading into 2018, liking what we’re seeing from an economic perspective as well,” Goodin said.

The corporation’s construction businesses made up about 55 percent of its total earnings in 2017 and 45 percent came from its utilities and pipeline businesses.

“We like that,” Goodin said. “This economy is growing and getting healthier. We see greater business opportunities within our construction group while still having that reliable, steady, ever increasing rate base growth at the pipeline and regulated utility.”

The construction services business more than doubled its first quarter earnings compared to last year, $15.1 million compared to $7.4 million in first quarter 2017. The business set a revenue record in 2017 and, with the way things are going, expects it could set another for 2018.

“Construction services is out of the gate, real strong this year,” Goodin said.

One thing that kept the company busy was power line repair work following a series of Nor'easters on the East Coast. Goodin said 150 crew members from Montana and Kansas City were sent to help with the repair work.

Record earnings also were recorded for the corporation’s utility businesses in the first quarter.

The company is expanding its renewable portfolio with the planned purchase of 16 wind turbines being added to the Thunder Spirit wind farm near Hettinger. This will bring renewables to 27 percent of the company’s total generation.

A boost from the Republican tax relief legislation also is helping to offset or lower proposed utility rate increases for many of the utility company’s customers. In North Dakota, the tax legislation allowed the company to reduce its request for a rate increase by $7.2 million, said Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. CEO Nicole Kivisto. Should the North Dakota Public Service Commission approve the rate increase, rates would go up but the increase would be $3.65 per month less than originally proposed.

Earnings were up 36 percent at the pipeline and midstream business to $5.3 million, compared to $3.9 million in first quarter 2017. The company transported a record volume of natural gas through its system.

The company also locked in a number of new natural gas pipeline construction projects for 2019. The Demicks Lake Project is a 14-mile, $30 million pipeline in the Bakken and the Line Section 22 Expansion is a $12 million to $15 million project in the Billings, Mont., area.

This year construction is expected to be completed on the 13-mile Line Section 27 project also in the Bakken, as well as a line connecting Ellendale to western Minnesota.

“The pipeline business continues to find wins, whether it’s out in the Bakken, over in Billings or over in eastern North Dakota,” Goodin said.

WBI Energy, MDU Resources pipeline subsidiary, serves 23 of the 30 natural gas processing plants in the Bakken, Goodin said.

Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com

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Business Reporter