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Okla. law judge recommends approval of Algonquin deal for Empire District

is focusedon business as usual as the Joplin, Mo.-headquartered utility moves ahead in itsproposed acquisitionby Algonquin Power & UtilitiesCorp.

The administrativelaw judge presiding over the merger hearings in Oklahoma has recommended approvalof the deal, with an order expected within 60 days. A FERC ruling is also expectedany day, Empire District President and CEO Bradley Beecher said during an April29 earnings call.

AlgonquinPower is acquiring Empire District for approximately $2.4 billion, including theassumption of $900 million of debt. The companies need the approval of shareholders,FERC and state regulators in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma to close thedeal.

Proceduralschedules are being established in Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas, Beecher noted.

"[T]hissummer, especially late summer, is going to be full of hearings. And then hopefully,that will give commissions about 90 days to make decisions and hopefully get usorders by December so that we can close in the first quarter," Beecher said.Empire District filedits merger applications March 16.

For EmpireDistrict shareholders, the company has set May 2 as the record date for determiningeligibility to the vote on the merger and expects to hold the special shareholdersmeeting on June 16 to hold the vote. The final proxy will be mailed to shareholdersin the week of May 2.

Beyondthe required approvals, the company has also started joint meetings at the seniormanagement level to initiate the transition and integration planning process.

On April28, the company reported that first-quarter 2016 consolidated earnings rose to $16.6 million, or 38 centsper share, excluding costs related to the merger. The S&P Capital IQconsensus normalized EPS estimate for first-quarter 2016 earnings was 30 cents.