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Edited Transcript of NWE earnings conference call or presentation 23-Apr-20 7:30pm GMT

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Q1 2020 NorthWestern Corp Earnings Call Sioux Falls May 1, 2020 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of NorthWestern Corp earnings conference call or presentation Thursday, April 23, 2020 at 7:30:00pm GMT TEXT version of Transcript ================================================================================ Corporate Participants ================================================================================ * Brian B. Bird NorthWestern Corporation - CFO * Robert C. Rowe NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director * Travis Meyer NorthWestern Corporation - Director - IR & Corporate Finance ================================================================================ Conference Call Participants ================================================================================ * Brian J. Russo Sidoti & Company, LLC - Research Analyst * Christopher Ronald Ellinghaus Siebert Williams Shank & Co., L.L.C., Research Division - Principal & Senior Equity Utility Analyst * Eric Peterson Millennium Engineering and Integration - Analyst * Jonathan Garrett Reeder Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division - Senior Analyst * Michael Weinstein Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division - United States Utilities Analyst * Paul Patterson Glenrock Associates LLC - Analyst * Ryan Greenwald BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Associate * Shahriar Pourreza Guggenheim Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD and Head of North American Power ================================================================================ Presentation -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Operator [1] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Good day, and welcome to the NorthWestern Corporation Financial Results Conference Call and Webcast. Today's event is being recorded. And at this time, I would like to turn the conference over to NorthWestern's Investor Relations Officer, Travis Meyer. Please go ahead, sir. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Travis Meyer, NorthWestern Corporation - Director - IR & Corporate Finance [2] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Thank you, Anne. Good afternoon, and thank you for joining NorthWestern Corporation's Financial Results conference call and webcast for the Quarter Ending March 31, 2020. NorthWestern's results have been released, and the release is available on our website at northwesternenergy.com. We also released our 10-Q pre-market this morning. Today on the call, we have joining us, Bob Rowe, President and Chief Executive Officer; we have Brian Bird, Chief Financial Officer; and other members of the management team on the call with us today to address your questions as needed. Before I turn the call over, however, for us to begin, please note that the company's press release, this presentation, comments made by presenters and responses to your questions may contain forward-looking statements and non-GAAP financial information. As such, I will remind you of our safe harbor language. During the course of this presentation, there will be forward-looking statements within the meaning of the safe harbor [act] provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Forward-looking statements often address our expected future business and financial performance and will contain words such as expects, anticipates, intends, plans, believes, seeks or will. The information in this presentation is based upon our current expectations. Our actual future business and financial performance may differ materially and adversely from our expectations expressed in any forward-looking statements. We undertake no obligation to revise or publicly update our forward-looking statements or this presentation for any reason. Although our expectations and beliefs are based upon reasonable assumptions, actual results may differ materially. The factors that may affect our results are listed in certain of our press releases and disclosed in the company's Forms 10-K and 10-Q along with other public filings with the SEC. Today's presentation also includes non-GAAP financial measures. Please refer to the definitions and reconciliations of these measures that are included in our webcast materials. Following the presentation, we'll open the phone lines to allow those who are dialed into the teleconference to ask questions. The archived replay of today's webcast will be available for 1 year beginning at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time today and can be found at our website, again, northwesternenergy.com, under the Our Company, Investor Relations, Presentations and Webcast link. With that, I'll hand it over to Bob Rowe, our CEO. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert C. Rowe, NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director [3] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Thank you, Travis, and thank you all for joining us this afternoon. I will touch on a few significant events, maybe just a couple of comments about our COVID response and then turn it over to Brian to go into detail on financial results. First, net income for the quarter decreased $22.1 million. That's 30% as compared to the same period last year. Diluted EPS decreased $0.44 or 31% compared to the same period. After adjusting for weather, non-GAAP adjusted EPS decreased $0.17 or 14% as compared to last year. The Board declared a quarterly dividend of $0.60 per share payable on June 30 to shareholders of record as of June 15. Due to the anticipated impacts from COVID-19 related disruptions across our territory combined with the first quarter results below our expectations, we are lowering 2020 EPS guidance. It had been $3.45 to $3.60 per share. We are lowering to $3.30 to $3.45. So effectively, the old floor becomes the ceiling. Despite this short-term setback, our long-term business prospects remain strong. We were able to promptly address any liquidity concerns as a result of COVID. We are continuing with our capital programs unchanged, and we have no change to our targeted 6% to 9% TSR. Just a few highlights going into a situation like this, it's a real test of the underlying strength of our company. On Page 4, we highlight some of our history. Many of you know this, but 3 things I would simply speak to are we have maintained an exceptional safety record before, and going into the COVID period, we have achieved the highest levels of customer satisfaction and high levels of service quality by all measurements, and we have continued to execute on our capital plan for the year. In terms of our COVID-19 response, we, like many companies, have business continuity plans. We have a crisis action structure: we drill, we train, we plan, we prepare. COVID-19 is different in that it affects our entire service territory, indeed the entire planet, not just a location on our system. So scope, it's different in terms of duration, obviously, and it is different in terms of complexity. Our plans, even though not necessarily for an identical situation, were effective. We began monitoring the situation early. We formally activated a crisis action team on March 11. That structure has continued to evolve as necessary and has been very effective. Some basic steps that we took. First of all, everyone who can work remotely is working remotely. That's freed up space in our facilities for people who have to be on-site to social distance. We've stood up our backup electric transmission and gas transmission control centers, and we have all of our field employees working in pods, paying attention to supply chain, bad debt, all of the metrics that you would expect. The work is getting done. From a customer perspective, the only change has really been on service that involves we speak directly, interacting in person with a customer. So pilot lights, things like that. We're communicating externally about how -- about what our people are doing about the need to maintain distance and give them a wave. We have had no lost time incidents during this period, and with fingers crossed, so far, we have had no employees who have contracted the virus. We have had several tests and have -- obviously are taking all precautions. So that's good news. One other thing I would highlight, just as an example, is even though our customer service reps are, for the most part, now working from home as well, the grade of service that we have been able to maintain is just really, really top-notch. I expect you want to talk more about COVID during the discussion. So with that, I will turn it over to Brian to walk through our financial situation. Brian? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [4] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Thanks, Bob. On Page 6, from a summary financial results perspective, as Bob pointed out, our net income, $50.7 million, are down $22.1 million or 30% for the first quarter, certainly a disappointing quarter. At a high level, when you look at gross margin, down $24.5 million, and compare that to income before tax is around $25.5 million, the story for the quarter was a very disappointing margin on a year-over-year basis. In fact, improvement in operating expenses were effectively offset by slightly higher other expense. And so net-net, it was margin as a whole. Moving on to margin on Slide 7. Again, down $24.5 million on a year-over-year basis. And again, $15 million of that associated with electric and $9 million associated with gas, but the actual decrease in gross margin as a whole, associated with volumes. Electric down $8.7 million, gas down $8.4 million. I'll mention here on weather that the change on a year-over-year basis is $18 million associated with weather. So obviously, that's a big part of those 2 line items. The other major contributor to the $22.2 million change in gross margin and impacts net income are other miscellaneous nonrecurring items, which are primarily items associated with tracker adjustments. We had favorable adjustments in 2019 and unfavorable in 2020 for that particular item. But those 3 things, electric volumes, gas volumes and the nonrecurring items make up the substantial change there. We did see OASIS revenues up, primarily associated with closure of Units 1 and 2 at Colstrip, and gas production continues to come down. But that was offset by our rate increase in terms of impact to retail rates in Montana. We also have items that impact gross margin that are offset elsewhere in the net income totaling $2.3 million decrease for a total, again, $24.5 million total decrease in gross margin. Moving on to weather, Page 8. As you can see at the top of the page, substantially warmer. Obviously, in our largest jurisdiction, 23% warmer versus '19 and even 5% warmer versus our historic averages. If you see the maps at the bottom of the page, you can see in 2019 is extremely cold in February and March, and we are actually quite a bit warmer in February of this year. So a pretty big swing on a year-over-year basis. And that warm first quarter contributed approximately $4 million of pretax gross margin detriment as compared to normal and $18 million pretax detriments compared to the first quarter of 2019. Regarding operating expenses. Operating expenses were down $2.7 million. Of those that actually impact OG&A, we had increases in generation costs, we had some [higher peak] costs but also some higher costs at some of our operating facilities and some other miscellaneous expenses. So a slight change there, $1.8 million. We also had some changes in OG&A that are offset elsewhere in net income. That's a decrease of $3.9 million for a net decrease of $2.1 million in operating, general and administrative expenses. We also saw a slight decrease in property taxes and a slight decrease in depreciation and depletion for the quarter. If I move forward to operating to net income. Operating income itself was down $21.8 million or 22%. Interest expense was up slightly due to higher borrowings. The other expense increase of $3.1 million is primarily the offsets I just spoke to in OG&A. And that brought us down to pretax income, I mentioned earlier, down $25.5 million. The benefit that we saw in income taxes -- excuse me, the $3.4 million decrease in income taxes, or the benefit, is primarily due to lower pretax income partially offset by a lower amortization of EDIT and other flow-through items. And speaking of income tax items on Page 11 and their reconciliation, you can see our income calculated at the statutory rate, down $5.3 million. That, offset by the EDIT I mentioned, the flow-through items down below, gets us to the $3.4 million decrease in income tax expenses. And even for the quarter, though we had a decrease in income taxes, one thing I should point out because of -- we had a poor first quarter, and that will -- as a percentage of our total pretax for the year, we actually will book lower tax credits during the quarter. And so that benefit would have been much bigger if, in fact, we had a similar proportion of our total pretax income this quarter versus 2019, of course, having a very strong quarter and having a higher proportion of the total. So we do expect to get some better tax outcomes from a credit perspective in coming quarters. The last thing I'd point out, from an NOL perspective, we expect them to be available into 2021 and with alternative AMT credits and production tax credits available into 2023 to reduce cash taxes. And lastly, our effective tax rate is expected to reach 10% by 2023. Regarding the balance sheet, not much to report there. A little change. Kept some cash on hand as associated with COVID during the quarter, but the ratio of debt-to-cap improved slightly over the last quarter. Moving on to cash flow on Page 13. We did see a $47 million improvement in cash flow. Really think of it, 3 things. We had better collection of supply costs from our tracker in this first quarter versus last year. 2019, we're giving TCJA credits to our customers. And lastly, those 2 benefits were offset by the lower net income for the quarter. Moving forward to adjusted non-GAAP earnings. What we did here on both the first quarter of 2019 and 2020, the only adjustments that impacted net income were weather. I'm starting at the bottom. On the left side of the page, you see diluted EPS of $1; adding back $0.06 to get to $1.06 compared to the far right at the bottom, $1.44; reducing that for favorable weather by $0.21, get to $1.23. That $1.06 versus $1.23 is a $0.17 detriment or down nearly 14%. And if you think about both the unfavorable weather up at the top of the page in revenues this quarter and you can see in the far right the favorable weather in 2019, as I mentioned earlier, there's the $18 million change on a year-over-year basis. Lastly, as I walk down kind of through the P&L itself, gross margins, down $6.5 million after you adjust out weather. And so from that perspective, I mentioned the nonrecurring items are a big portion of that. The second thing I would point out, operating expenses, though flat, still, on an adjusted basis, up slightly; interest expense, up slightly, getting to a pretax detriment of $7.5 million on a year-over-year basis. And then lastly, the reason I have talked about on the tax reconciliation, a little bit about income tax changes here, it actually shows we have an unfavorable on a year-over-year basis on the non-GAAP adjustments. And we can see, if you look to the far right in the income tax line, there's a tax expense. But when you back out the favorable weather, you actually get yourself into a favorable tax position on a non-GAAP adjusted '19 for the income taxes. And the reverse that happened here this quarter, we had favorable income taxes and then offset to a degree by the adjustment for the unfavorable weather, and net-net income tax became a negative variance as a result on a year-over-year comparison of $1.1 million. Total again, $8.6 million detriment from a net income perspective comparing the non-GAAP numbers year-over-year. Moving on to Slide 15, just real quickly on liquidity. With the goal of -- the uncertainty of COVID, we wanted to increase our normal liquidity minimum threshold of $100 million up to $200 million. And the best way to do that was to actually enter into a 364 term loan. We were able to do that. We also recently priced $150 million first mortgage bonds. We accelerated that offering. Expect it later in the year here into the early part of the year. Those funds will come in in May. So we feel very good from a liquidity perspective. One thing on -- from an equity perspective, we have mentioned recently that we expect to do equity either late 2020 or early 2021. Where we sit today is we anticipate that equity issuance is going to roll into early 2021 at this point in time. Moving forward, diluted earnings per share. Bob pointed out earlier that we reduced our range from $3.45 to $3.60 down to $3.30 to $3.45. The primary measures there associated with COVID, of course, and a poor first quarter. Regarding COVID, just to think about how we laid out our thought process, we expected a very difficult second quarter. Obviously, with business closures and social distancing in place, in for a very tough second quarter, easing significantly in the third quarter and nearly fully recovered in the fourth quarter. We also adjusted our tax rate to a negative from -- previously a negative 2% to positive 3% down to a negative 5% to 0%. And lastly, as Bob pointed out, continued investment, think about a long-term 6% to 9% total return, or TSR, if you will, mentioned earlier in previous calls, as we continue to invest over $400 million. We expect to be in the midpoint of that range. If you think about 2019 as your base going forward, we still see 6% to 9% as our long-term total shareholder return range. Moving on to Slide 17. I hope this was a good depiction of the changes in the guidance. And obviously, we want to answer investors' questions, particularly as we reduce guidance here. The difference in the middle columns there between initial guidance and our revised is $0.15, as you can see. We wanted to give you the flavor of what the changes were, obviously, a very difficult first quarter. You see a $0.09 negative impact from a gross margin perspective and a $0.06 income tax expense, and that's why I took so much time walking through that with you earlier so you could see that item. Of that $0.06, I expect all of that to be reversed from a timing perspective. And I do expect some of that $0.09 up above to be at a timing matter as well. So think of the first quarter is about $0.17, as it's shown there, but with the timing changes, I expect to see of our $0.15 change, half of that's really associated with the first quarter, and the other half is really associated with COVID effects for the last 3 quarters of the year. And speaking of those changes, you can see the range is there. From a gross margin perspective, you can assume essentially flat, minus $0.03 to a positive $0.03. And obviously, COVID is in there. But we also have some timing and some growth expected in there and so plan that -- the midpoint of that, of course, is flat. We do increase our expense -- or excuse me, our expense control during the year as a result of COVID. And we're seeing reduced expense, as you can imagine, in those items, and I'll speak to them in a moment, things that we're not doing from a business perspective. And lastly, the timing associated with tax. Those are the biggest changes. If you look to the far right, we explain the changes at a very high level. But you can see a $0.27 reduction in margin. It's a pretty substantial change. But if you can see how we clawed back $0.27, if you will, subtract $0.08 of incremental OG&A recovery, subtract $0.02 of depreciation improvement and subtract another $0.02 of net change -- net improvement in income taxes, and you get to a $0.15 change in your guidance as a whole. So hopefully, that's helpful. I'm sure there will be more questions. Last thing I would say on this page is that cost controls that we put in place, $0.15, is really associated -- that guidance is in part due to the first quarter and the remainder due to COVID for the 2020 -- for the remainder of 2020. Moving on to the margin expectations as a whole. On the bottom of the page, we mentioned the updated gross margin guidance for Q2 to Q4. We tried to explain in a more granular form the thing I laid out at a high level on the initial guidance page. We anticipate down $0.03 to plus $0.03 for that period. One of the things we would point out, the impact of COVID in our forecast is to be offset most, if not all, of our forecasted organic growth we expected in 2020. At the upper left, we have our kind of our 80-20 rule from a customer count perspective, I think residential customers being 80% of both our electric and gas business, which is true. But on a revenue perspective, that changes. As you can see at the upper part of the chart, just to the right of the customers, from a revenue perspective for electric, residential is slightly less than 50%. And on gas, it's slightly more. So on a combined basis, think kind of the contribution from residential and commercial about 50-50. And you can see very little impact from industrial on the electric side and nearly none on the gas side. So laying that as a precursor, just to understand the business a bit better, upper right is just our overall concept of what we -- impact we thought we have on loads. And it's a forecast, folks. COVID is very difficult to comprehend. But talking to our energy supply folks and thinking how this would play out, we anticipated about a 3 to 1 ratio impact from a volumetric perspective on our business, so that commercial accounts would go down at a rate of down 3-point -- or 3 -- down to 3 to our increase of 1 in residential. In essence, for Q2, we expect commercial to be down about 12% and residential up 4%. And you can see that ratio stays pretty solid through Q3 and Q4, and you could see the substantial recovery. I should point out at a high level, again, Q2 is one -- is the quarter that gives the least amount of contribution to net income. But in fairness, Q1 and Q2 combined are about 50% of our contribution. So a difficult first quarter and a difficult second quarter will be difficult to overcome with the last 2 quarters of the year. But with expense control and expected recovery in the third and fourth quarter, we expect to offset a portion of the first quarter that we talked about earlier. A little more granular detail by both electric and gas is shown down below. In the far right, we show the 20th -- 2020 estimate of COVID versus pre-COVID. You could see the impact on residential and commercial there and the same thing from the gas side. We wanted to give you a lot of information. We wanted to show there's a lot of rigor to our thought process here. I think everyone knows no one has a crystal ball in terms of how this plays out, but we wanted to work really hard to giving investors a look into how we're thinking about this. I think the easy answer would have been to just to drop guidance altogether. It was our belief the best thing to do is try to think of how this is going to impact our business and come out with a result from there. The last thing I'd say on this page, regarding decoupling. First and foremost, it is only impacting our Montana electric-only business. And by the way, it's not even in effect until July of this year. And so due to the recovery that we expect in the third and fourth quarter, we didn't expect decoupling to have too much of an impact on the changes here as a whole. And lastly, I'd remind folks, in Montana, the decoupling is primarily associated with our residential customers. Matter of fact, less than 10% of our commercial customers are going to -- were going to see a benefit from decoupling through the commercial side. So much, much more of an impact on the residential side of our business. Moving on to Slide 19, COVID from an expense standpoint. We note at the bottom we anticipate $0.20 to $0.23 of EPS improvement compared to the prior year on a non-GAAP basis. This includes $0.09 of incremental cost controls compared to our initial earnings guidance. And by the way, this assumes regulatory recovery increased bad debt expense in our jurisdictions. And on that point, and I'd argue that's approximately $0.05 of our thought process here. And why would we expect to have regulatory recovery of increased bad debt expense? We've had discussions with our 2 largest jurisdictions, Montana and South Dakota. We are also working with the other utilities in those jurisdictions about making filings. We've had favorable discussions with the staff at both Montana and South Dakota and feel -- are confident that we'll get an outcome from recovery in that regard. But that is built into our guidance. And with that, I know that's a lot, I'm going to pass it back over to Bob. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert C. Rowe, NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director [5] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Okay. Just to reiterate, on Slide 20, you've seen this before, 3 points I would make: First, we do include the South Dakota generation investment at $80 million. Second, as we've talked about, we are successfully executing against this year's capital plan, either managing supply chain, paying attention to things like that. The work is getting done. And third, we do expect, in the out-years, capital investment at least this level. As you know, as we work through the planning cycle, we identify the projects that are most important to serve our customers. So we do consider the current level of capital to be sustainable over the coming years. Looking forward, we have talked a little bit about regulatory matters already. We were very pleased with the settlement we were able to reach in the electric rate case in Montana. Decoupling or the infrastructure support mechanism is one of the issues on reconsideration. We would expect a decision from the Montana Commission sometime in the coming weeks. Like other regulatory bodies around the country, they are meeting through alternate means, and that has been something of a challenge for many. As Brian said, decoupling is something we believe very strongly has long-term value. We don't think of it as a very significant tool to address COVID-related concern this year. Meanwhile, the parallel FERC transmission rate case is moving ahead. As most of you know, that has been in settlement discussions for quite some time. The settlement discussions are now being handled electronically as well rather than in person, but they are proceeding. The South Dakota plan, as I've already highlighted, we moved to implementation. We expect the plant to be online by late 2021. In Montana, we have a competitive solicitation for 280 megawatts outstanding. I still believe the schedule for that can be met. We did add a couple of months to the bid closing date in the RFP just in recognition of the current COVID situation. Meanwhile, just fundamentally, foundationally, our ongoing work in the transmission distribution system to continue to modernize, address reliability, capacity, functionality is going forward. And despite COVID and everything else, we are moving ahead with plans to join the EIM and have assigned adequate resources to that based on our experience out of South Dakota. And the Southwest Power Pool, we look forward to good outcomes for our customers and the company as we move into the Western Imbalance Market. As you know, we had agreed with Puget Sound Energy to acquire their interest in Colstrip Unit 4. It was an attractive resource for our customers even if a transitional resource. And it would have deferred, but not eliminated, the need to acquire assets to address our customers' capacity exposure. A very important part of that was the purchase power agreement back to Puget with a very good price structure and very significantly, Puget agreeing to retain future closure, for example, pension obligations. So we considered that proposal -- do consider that proposal to be very good for our customers and also extremely responsible in terms of future environmental or other closure costs. We were not the only people who thought we had negotiated a very, very good deal. As most of you are aware, Talen has now exercised their right of first refusal on both the purchase and sale agreement for the asset and the parallel purchase power agreement back. So the unfortunate part of that is that customers are losing some significant value. On the other hand, Talen's action does affirm that we negotiated a very good deal for our customers and also does indicate Talen's longer-term interest. Talen had also asserted a ROFR against our transmission purchase. Our view is that there is no ROFR available for that. I think Talen at least acknowledges our position. We are in the process of refiling -- or filing an amendment to our application reflecting the ROFR. In addition, the commission had initially adopted an order filing -- finding that our initial application under the Montana preapproval statute was deficient in certain ways. We were extremely concerned that the commission had, without necessarily intending to do so, had broadened the docket substantially beyond the corners of filing. And the Montana preapproval statute is quite specific about contents of a filing, various requirements imposed upon the applicant, and then does set a deadline beginning with the date the application is deemed complete. The commission did, just several days ago, grant our motion for reconsideration and has adopted a procedural schedule that would move towards a hearing this fall. We expect the written order will also include strong language about appropriate and inappropriate use of the discovery process, trying to keep the case focused appropriately. So with that, we look forward to your questions. ================================================================================ Questions and Answers -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Operator [1] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- (Operator Instructions) And we'll take our first question from Julien Dumoulin-Smith with Bank of America. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Ryan Greenwald, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Associate [2] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is actually Ryan Greenwald in for Julien. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert C. Rowe, NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director [3] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- So the DH rule is in effect. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Ryan Greenwald, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Associate [4] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- So maybe if we could just kick off with your expectations around rate cases, timing and any test year implications given the meaningful cost cuts that are being implemented. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert C. Rowe, NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director [5] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Yes. We do look at rate cases every spring when we look at whether a rate case is appropriate. And this year, we do not anticipate making any filings. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Ryan Greenwald, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Associate [6] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Are you able to help frame kind of expectations for next year given the cost cuts that are kind of being implemented right now? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert C. Rowe, NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director [7] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Any expectations in terms of rate case filings in 2021? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Ryan Greenwald, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Associate [8] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Right. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert C. Rowe, NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director [9] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- No, I think it's too early for that. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Ryan Greenwald, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Associate [10] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Fair enough. And then on the decoupling, I understand that it's not really designed for the current crisis. But in terms of action by the commission there, is July implementation kind of your base case still for expectations? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert C. Rowe, NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director [11] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The most of -- we're less concerned about a date for implementation and more concerned that the commission does move ahead with decoupling again. It's really designed as infrastructure support mechanism. And the commission issued a very good order. We hope it stands by that order. Very importantly, as part of that order, the commission recognized that there is no basis for an ROE adjustment when decoupling is adopted. So we're concerned about the substance and about a clear order, much less concerned on a starting date. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [12] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Bob, and just [thirdly]. On the phone, it's difficult because Bob and I used to be able to look across the table at each other and say who is going to take -- answering a certain question or not. So just one thing on the rate case. I agree with everything Bob said. I just want to add something, though, on South Dakota. We had talked about South Dakota in the past because of the structure of investing capital this year and investing capital in 2021, the thought process of having a 2020 test year and do a known and measurable capital. So I think we've had shared thoughts around that. So I want to be able to say that again on this call. Those plans have not changed as we sit here today. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert C. Rowe, NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director [13] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Fair enough. Brian and I have not been in the same room since, what, early March, late February. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Ryan Greenwald, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Associate [14] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Okay. Fair enough. And then I guess, just looking at the margin assumptions, are you able to give any color on your transmission revenue expectations? And I guess, any color you can kind of provide on that $1.2 million headwind in terms of what might have been COVID-related there for the quarter? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [15] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Yes. I saw some thoughts about transmission impacted by COVID. We are not seeing that. Certainly hadn't seen it in the first quarter. The 2 things I would say about the transmission side of our business, the OASIS impact that we see in transmission was really driven by the closure of Units 1 and 2. So that was already in effect pre-COVID. The other impact we did have in the first quarter is we had a large industrial customer of ours who was having some troubles and stopped production in January, and they are now back up and running and certainly still running in through COVID time period. So another good thing about industrial for us in about Montana, for sure. We don't have a ton of industrial here in South Dakota. We got commercial but not a ton of industrial. So the nice thing, though, in the State of Montana, most of our industrial customers are in industries deemed important in -- to continue in production. So we haven't seen a lot of falloff, as of late, there. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Ryan Greenwald, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Associate [16] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Fair enough. And then just lastly, real quick on the rate case stuff. So I understand your commentary around South Dakota. But in terms of Montana, how should we kind of think about the interrelationship between significant O&M cuts and then the test year for that next rate case? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [17] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I'm going to agree with Bob's statement earlier. On Montana, we're going to have to wait and see where we are in the spring of 2021 to see what we're going to do there. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Operator [18] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Our next question will come from Shar Pourreza with Guggenheim Partners. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Shahriar Pourreza, Guggenheim Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD and Head of North American Power [19] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Just a couple of just quick questions here. Your outlook assumes business closures in the second quarter with some sort of a mean reversion with business activity in the fourth quarter. If the outcome is sort of more protracted or the recovery assumptions that you guys have in the slides are lagging by maybe 1 or 2 more quarters, do you guys have additional levers above the $0.09 and O&M you found to stay on track? Do you have additional levers, I guess, beyond the $0.09? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [20] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Bob, I will grab that one. I would tell you this: what we did, Shar, is we looked at kind of a worst-case scenario, essentially said, what if, in fact, we were in this situation in the second quarter or a full year and our guidance would go down another $0.15 associated with that. So that gives you an idea of the magnitude swing, if, in fact, we were locked down through all of 2020. So we don't have enough levers, if you will, to go that far. To give you some thought process on our thinking in terms of how we did lay it out, I think, in fairness, and I don't want to downplay the national impacts of COVID right now, but the total number of cases in our 2 service territories in Montana and South Dakota combined is 468 cases. Matter of fact, Montana is talking about opening up here in early May in a phased approach. So we assume, effectively, lockdown into and through all of the second quarter in our assumptions, and so -- and then recovery. So I think -- and again, things can change. We are certainly well aware of that. And if we're not careful, they can change. I think the company is certainly -- regardless of how quickly things are going to open up in our various states, we are going to continue to do what we have been doing to protect certainly our employees and customers as best we can. But from our perspective, we feel pretty good about the assumptions and continue to -- as we continue to watch this day-to-day. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert C. Rowe, NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director [21] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I think the key thing to add is just that we monitor the situation truly week to week -- and in some cases, day-to-day -- and are able to make adjustments. 500 cases or so in our immediate service territory is obviously 500 too many, and the precautions everyone is taking are appropriate. But at this point, the projections that Brian ran through are pretty consistent with facts on the ground. Facts could change, and we'll be prepared to adjust. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Shahriar Pourreza, Guggenheim Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD and Head of North American Power [22] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Got it. And then just we're 3 weeks into the second quarter. How does sort of the load picture look like versus what your assumptions are prospectively on Slide 18? Is April pretty reflective of how you guys are guiding for second, third and fourth quarter in those -- in the load deck? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [23] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Bob, we probably both can respond to this. I'll take it, though. I mean, what are we seeing thus far? Shar, is that another way to answer your question? Yes, I would... -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Shahriar Pourreza, Guggenheim Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD and Head of North American Power [24] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Yes. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [25] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- We don't have great information on customer-by-customer basis. We don't have the AMI throughout in Montana. What we do have, though, is we're responsible for load control balancing in the State of Montana and obviously, our largest part of our business. What we're seeing there thus far in April was where loads are down about 2%. But in fairness, it's been a pretty decent weather month. And so the thought process internally is that probably equates to more like a 4% drop in loads as a whole. So that's what we have thus far. It's not a perfect match for our business, but relatively, from a volumetric perspective, it's the best we have. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert C. Rowe, NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director [26] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In addition to just loads in the aggregate, obviously, we're paying attention to the payment situation. And we start with a very low level of late pay, nonpay. Like other utilities, we have waived termination and collection. We've got a program stood up just this week to reach out to those customers. But from that load base, we are seeing an unusual trend up this year obviously associated with COVID just in payment issues. So we need to work with customers there, and we hope that, again, our regulators will support us in doing that. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Shahriar Pourreza, Guggenheim Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD and Head of North American Power [27] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Got it. And then just on the CapEx. Obviously, it was reiterated, but it does sort of decelerate through your trajectory. And the message has always generally been that you can backfill. Does COVID sort of related slowdowns impact kind of this conservative bend? And more importantly, can you sort of speak on the flexibility of sort of the growth capital program, assuming that macroeconomic backdrop is a little bit more projected? Is there any sort of spending programs that could become secondary in nature? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert C. Rowe, NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director [28] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- We have -- because our capital program is not at this point really dependent on a small number of headline projects, it's really driven by what are the needs in the system. So there is some flexibility in bringing programs forward and back. But I wouldn't think of it so much as backfilling a hole. It's just doing the work that's appropriate to do in the system and doing that in a sequence that makes sense. So this year, in distribution, there were resources available to really focus on line subsegments using data, engineering, gap analysis to go in and address reliability issues, be proactive in terms of fire management, things like that. So that's an example of a program that can be moved up depending on available resources. And Brian, I know you want to chip in on that one, too. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [29] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- We've been working together a long time, Bob. Yes, I would say this. We have -- as far as I can recall, we have always invested more in the actual year of that fifth-year forecast than we actually have shown 5 years prior, if that makes sense. In essence, we do tend to fill that in, and we're better at forecasting our current year budget from a capital perspective than we are in our fifth year. But we tend to fill that in, Shar. So I'd say that first. Second, I would say, obviously, we like to be successful on Montana generation. If we're able to do that, we will fill it in, likely, and then some, right? The hope is to be at $400 million of investment throughout this whole time period. And again, that gives us comfort being in the midpoint of our 6% to 9% total shareholder return. And so yes, I do think we'll fill that in. But until we have identified the projects and have done a significant amount of work in terms of laying them out, we're not going to just throw projects in there to make it add up to $400 million. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Shahriar Pourreza, Guggenheim Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD and Head of North American Power [30] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Got it. Got it. And then just one last question, if I may. The rate case, just the part that was under reconsideration was the decoupling part of it. That outcome kind of shifted from first quarter, and then now you are expecting sometime in the second quarter. Just, and obviously you highlighted some of that could have been related to COVID. Is there any potential this can go into further slippage? I mean the program, I think, is supposed to go into effect in the beginning of July. So just get a little bit of a sense on timing if there's a potential it slips further. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert C. Rowe, NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director [31] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The order, I certainly expect in the next few weeks. I think the commission has figured out how to run its business remotely. In terms of a start date for the program, as I mentioned, I'm not as concerned about whether that's this July or next January. What I am eager to see is a strong order from the commission affirming that decoupling is important and affirming its original decision. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [32] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Bob, just -- not sure, but it may actually be on the work session next week, too, that topic. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert C. Rowe, NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director [33] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Yes. Yes, it is. Now whether they act next week or take -- or decide to take action at some point in the future, but there is a work session scheduled on decoupling. So I think we can comfortably say there will be a final outcome next week or soon thereafter. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Operator [34] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- We will take our next question from Michael Weinstein with Crédit Suisse. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Michael Weinstein, Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division - United States Utilities Analyst [35] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian, on Page 7, you have a listed other miscellaneous onetime items affecting gross margins. Could you maybe go through some of those miscellaneous items, like what are they, and why are they onetime? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [36] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Well, I think, what we've done is we've had some adjustments to trackers. And I think from our perspective, unfortunately, much like margin, the adjustment that we had last year -- and all of it's from our perspective -- there's several adjustments in other and -- in all cases. But they were favorable in '19 and unfavorable in '20. And just the swing on a year-over-year basis was larger than usual. So I will leave it that, Michael. But think trackers where those adjustments are typically held. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Michael Weinstein, Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division - United States Utilities Analyst [37] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I think the concern is when people try to analyze it, they look at that sort of $4.9 million item, and it's being -- investors are being told to ignore that the next year, right? So is that -- I mean, going forward, is that actually... -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [38] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Yes. And that's fair. I think that's a fair thing. The question being, hey, are we going to see this on a going-forward basis? I can't say for sure. I can tell you this, though: Peak amp, for instance, was a relatively new thing and the structure went through changes. We also have had changes in how property taxes are handled from a tracker perspective here recently in the past year or so. So obviously, getting our arms around that. If there are other changes to trackers, for instance, that -- this could be something that happens again. But I don't foresee anything in the first quarter of 2021 as I sit here today. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Michael Weinstein, Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division - United States Utilities Analyst [39] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Okay. I'll follow up off-line about that a bit more. Okay, on the stimulus bill, have you guys said anything about what kind of maybe AMI credit acceleration you might get or any NOL acceleration you might get? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [40] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I think from meters, we have less meters impact this year from a tax credit perspective. But from our tax repairs, we continue to do a lot of work there. I hope I'm going down the path you were going, Michael. But I think we're going to be -- from a tax credit perspective, I think we're going to have something very similar in terms of level on a year-over-year basis. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Michael Weinstein, Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division - United States Utilities Analyst [41] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- And bad debt recovery being considered by the regulators in Montana, what about other expenses? Is there anything else that they might be willing to consider, you think? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [42] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I would say, here's the thing about that debt and then talking to other utilities. Bad debt is an easier one to talk about just because of the disconnection and the inability to have control over that as much as we used to have as a utility perspective. And that's an easier one, I think, to dealing with the commissions. I'd also say, if you push too much on other expenses that are going up, if I was a commission, you could ask, well, what about some other expenses that are going down? That's -- bad debt is one that I think everybody can get their arms around pretty well. But we are in dialogue with other utilities, and they have some other ideas, and so -- in the 2 jurisdictions that we are talking about. But we do -- we'd all like to come in with a joint filing. And Michael, one other thing to your question on credits. The main thing I want to reiterate is just the tax rate itself. The negative 5% to 0% is the thing I want to leave you with. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Michael Weinstein, Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division - United States Utilities Analyst [43] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- And one last question here. On Colstrip, with Talen taking a piece of it now, if I remember right, you guys, you have a contract with Puget, I think, that makes a certain amount of gross margin over 5 years, and you were going to use that to help fund the decommissioning liabilities. Does that mean that there is more liabilities now to fund? How does that get worked out? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert C. Rowe, NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director [44] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Actually, it would be -- no, there is no -- not more liability to fund. But the profit from the PPA back would be diminished, not necessarily one-for-one, but that is disappointing. We thought we were doing and still are doing something, I think, really creative and progressive in identifying a revenue source to prefund closing costs, and we still intend to do that. Unfortunately, it will be at a lower level. And we'll be updating our filing here right away to reflect all of that. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Michael Weinstein, Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division - United States Utilities Analyst [45] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- If I remember right, I think it's like about a $25 million profit that you were expecting to get, so something close to maybe $12 million now. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert C. Rowe, NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director [46] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- It depends on, obviously, what's going on at the Mid-C, but it would still be a significant contribution. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Michael Weinstein, Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division - United States Utilities Analyst [47] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Thanks a lot... -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [48] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Yes, I think -- Mike, I just want to be clear on that. I'm sorry to interrupt on that one. I'd just -- should be careful of the words profit. We were [in the news] that I would argue the net proceeds as a means to fund future remediation costs on our existing ownership on Unit 4. So hopefully, that clarifies that. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Operator [49] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- And we'll take our next question from Chris Ellinghaus with Siebert Williams. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Christopher Ronald Ellinghaus, Siebert Williams Shank & Co., L.L.C., Research Division - Principal & Senior Equity Utility Analyst [50] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The guidance doesn't reflect, seemingly, a whole lot of impact from any kind of second spike in the fourth quarter. Are you doing that because you just don't know what to think? Or you -- do you not us want to assume that there's a fall flu season? What's your sort of thinking there? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [51] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- It's a good question, Chris. I think as we first looked at this, there weren't as much discussions initially about a second wave. And obviously, that is coming up at this point in time. But I also think from our assumptions, we didn't expect states to start talking about reopening in early May, either, in light of when we were putting together these assumptions. And so we're taking that into consideration. But in fairness, if things on the ground change, we could be wrong in our assumptions. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Christopher Ronald Ellinghaus, Siebert Williams Shank & Co., L.L.C., Research Division - Principal & Senior Equity Utility Analyst [52] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Okay. Yes, I was going to say, it sounds like based on your timetable locally that maybe, theoretically, your thought process on the second quarter could be a little better than you thought, but you're also not reflecting quite as harsh a fourth quarter, so you're comfortable with the year as it is, kind of? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [53] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Yes. I think on a particular quarter, we might not nail it. I like it thinking about it over the 3 quarters that we'll be in pretty good shape. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Christopher Ronald Ellinghaus, Siebert Williams Shank & Co., L.L.C., Research Division - Principal & Senior Equity Utility Analyst [54] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Okay. And the other thing I wanted to touch on is, you haven't made any CapEx adjustments. Is your thought process at this point that labor in terms of what you plan to spend won't have any productivity effects from COVID-19? Or have you made adjustments in how you plan to execute on your spend? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert C. Rowe, NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director [55] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I would say 3 things. First, both our workforce and contract workforce are, at this point, in good shape. And the health and safety of our employees is #1. And the steps we've taken so far are designed to ensure that they continue to be healthy. The second factor I mentioned is supply chain, and our supply chain team is paying a lot of attention to that. And there have been some shifts in inventory. But so far, we are able to get parts in reasonably good shape. Clearly, we've talked about before there's some ability to adjust plans project to project, forward and back. But the big picture, it all seems to come together at this point. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Christopher Ronald Ellinghaus, Siebert Williams Shank & Co., L.L.C., Research Division - Principal & Senior Equity Utility Analyst [56] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Okay, great. Thanks... -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [57] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Bob, I would add -- sorry, Chris, I don't know if you're on your second question. I would -- the only thing I'd add is, from our perspective, there's some customer-facing work that we typically would be doing, and that's -- we're doing less of that. And that's an expense item. And so our folks are being able to allocate more of their time than they normally would to capital projects. And so that helps in that regard as well. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Operator [58] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- And we'll take our next question from Brian Russo with Sidoti. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian J. Russo, Sidoti & Company, LLC - Research Analyst [59] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- A lot of my questions have been asked and answered. But just on the Montana RFP, are we still expecting final bids or initial bids in May and an outcome in the first quarter of '21? Or is there any delays, given the environment out there? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert C. Rowe, NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director [60] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Yes. We've added 2 months to the bid closing date, but we have not made any adjustment to the final decision date, and our supply team is comfortable that that's going to give them plenty of time to do the work that's necessary. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian J. Russo, Sidoti & Company, LLC - Research Analyst [61] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Okay. So the 2 months' delay in the bids, that's due in May? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert C. Rowe, NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director [62] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Correct. So essentially, just adding 2 months onto the bid submission period upfront. But no change in the end date. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian J. Russo, Sidoti & Company, LLC - Research Analyst [63] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Okay, great. And then... -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert C. Rowe, NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director [64] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I mean the decision date. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian J. Russo, Sidoti & Company, LLC - Research Analyst [65] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- And you mentioned the total shareholder return is unchanged using the 2019 base year. Should we be using the adjusted EPS, meaning you strip out the favorable weather? Or is the base now -- does the base include favorable weather? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [66] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Weather is something we are always going to adjust out, Brian. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian J. Russo, Sidoti & Company, LLC - Research Analyst [67] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Okay. Got it. And then I may have missed this earlier. But the $0.15 net reduction in the guidance, $0.09 of it -- or $0.06 was weather related in the first quarter. A total of $0.09 impacted the first quarter, and the remainder is in 2Q, so we should see year-over-year, probably weak comparisons in the first and second quarter but then a big pickup and increase year-over-year in the remaining 2 quarters of the year in terms of the margin dispersion or earnings dispersion. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [68] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I'm sorry, Brian. I was getting a little confused. I thought for a minute there, you were going with the $0.09 that was just in the margin that was already adjusted with weather out of it. So I'm not sure I followed your question, and I apologize. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian J. Russo, Sidoti & Company, LLC - Research Analyst [69] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Well, the $0.15 of reduction to your midpoint, which the low end of your previous range is now the high end of the new range. Are there additional costs that can be managed to alleviate some of that $0.15? And how much of that $0.15 was already realized in the first quarter? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [70] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Okay. I see what you're saying. I think from our perspective, again, I just want to be clear, pre-COVID, post-COVID, and what we are all trying to do is we're always trying to adjust out weather, just to make sure that's clear. Of the $0.15 change, we already have substantially added incremental cost controls above and beyond what we had in our initial guidance, which had cost control benefits in it. So from our perspective, we think half of that variance really is associated with the results from the first quarter. We think there's some timing there, certainly know some timing on taxes. I believe there's timing on margin. And we'll get some of that back. So I think half of that for the first quarter. And then the second half, we're going to have COVID impacts, no doubt, and you can see the substantial amount of margin reduction. But we're going to offset that to a good portion with both cost controls and the timing associated with taxes. And I'm hoping that answers your question. That is kind of the other half, if you will, of the $0.15. So I think we have taken in consideration the cost control savings to get already to the $0.15 change that we're talking about. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian J. Russo, Sidoti & Company, LLC - Research Analyst [71] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Okay. So there is no bias towards the upper end of the revised guidance. It's -- the base case is the midpoint. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [72] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I -- yes, I think that's fair. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian J. Russo, Sidoti & Company, LLC - Research Analyst [73] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Okay. Got it. And then the $150 million of debt that was accelerated. Does that satisfy your debt needs through 2021 or adjust through 2020? Assuming you do have equity needs maybe in the early part of 2021. You're already at the low end of the debt-to-cap. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [74] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Yes. We accelerated what we did this year. We always typically have some first mortgage bonds depending in -- hopefully, we're doing something large enough. In the future, we can do an even larger debt offering. But we typically are doing things from a debt perspective once a year. And so this year, we accelerate what we're going to do. I think, in 2021, we'll do something similar. The sizing of that will depend on the capital that we deploy in 2021. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian J. Russo, Sidoti & Company, LLC - Research Analyst [75] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Got it. And then lastly, the $0.05 of bad debt assumption, is that in the midpoint of your guidance? Or is that -- are you expensing that? And then hopefully, you get commission approval to then defer it. How should we look at that? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [76] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Well, I think, in fairness, you have to assume there's parts moving. And if I mentioned already that my amount is in the midpoint of that range and I have to move $0.05 because I didn't get recovery from the jurisdictions, I would be in the lower end of my guidance, if that makes sense. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian J. Russo, Sidoti & Company, LLC - Research Analyst [77] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Yes, it does... -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [78] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- If I didn't get recovery from jurisdiction. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Operator [79] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- And we'll take our next question from Paul Patterson with Glenrock Associates. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Paul Patterson, Glenrock Associates LLC - Analyst [80] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- So I want to touch base just -- most of my questions have been answered. But I wanted to touch base with really what the -- I'm not completely clear on what the COVID impact that you guys are forecasting is, other than you're expecting some sort of rebound in the third and fourth quarter, I guess. And what I'm wondering is, I mean, when we're talking about this, are you guys expecting really -- what are you guys expecting in terms of the economic impact associated with COVID in terms of your 2020 guidance and the long-term growth rate that you guys have? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [81] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Yes. I think, in fairness, we didn't look at the industries in our business and take a guess how this particular industry is going to be impacted. We have an idea of our customer base, of course, but we didn't do a -- we're not forecasting the GDP change in their various states. We essentially said, based on what we know today, what's our expectations from a load perspective. We do understand that in Montana. For instance, there's a lot of commercial customers, relies on the travel industry. We expected quite a bit of impact there. But again, I think, we have effectively focused on how will the economy respond in terms of the health aspects of this. In essence, will we be shelter in place during your point in time? Will we be opening up? Our assumption, we would have been opening up in the third quarter. And that's moving a little bit quicker. I think a fair point was raised earlier in the call. There could be impacts going into later of the year. We still feel good about that. But we have not sit down and done an analysis, if you will, by our customers themselves and essentially say each one of them what do we expect the change in load. This is at a higher level. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert C. Rowe, NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director [82] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- As Brian did mention earlier, we have some visibility into, particularly our largest customers. Obviously, if you are a university, you must have effectively closed your campus. You are hoping to reopen for fall semester, not necessarily known but you're hoping to. On the other hand, some of our largest customers are in the health sector or natural resources, refineries, and they have continued to be very active. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Paul Patterson, Glenrock Associates LLC - Analyst [83] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Okay. But just on... -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [84] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Paul, one other thing to add -- Paul, sorry. One other thing to add, too, is one thing you have to keep in mind, I think people are always looking at the downward side here. Our most profitable customers, at least on a megawatt-hour basis, dekatherm basis, are our residential customers. And we're anticipating an uptick in load there. And those are more volumetric customers than the C&I customers as well. So that's something to keep in mind as well. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Paul Patterson, Glenrock Associates LLC - Analyst [85] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Okay. So if I understand this correctly, you're sort of basically talking about sort of the short-term impact associated with stay in place and what have you with the sort of public policy and human reaction to the pandemic. But if I understand you correctly, you guys are not really -- at least for the forecast purposes, not making any change in your expectation for economic growth. For instance, you don't have a recession or anything like that planned into your -- that outlook is not involved in the 6% to 9%. Or -- am I correct? I mean, in other words, when you're looking at this, you're looking at this sort of as a steady state economically, and we're just sort of looking at how load might be impacted by just what I talked about, the COVID -- the direct COVID response reaction kind of thing, as opposed to the potential for a substantial economic slowdown. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [86] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In fairness on that point, I want to be clear, too. We talk about a recovery in the third quarter and nearly back to normal in fourth. So we are still showing detriment in the third quarter and detriment in the fourth quarter but -- so not back to our plan in either of those quarters by any means. So I just want to be clear on that. I think to your point, in fairness, thinking about 2021, we focused on 2020. And I think it's difficult to say the impacts of this on a going-forward basis economically. We could be entering into a recession, of course, and that could have impact on our business the remainder of '20 and into future years. We have not gone through that analysis. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Paul Patterson, Glenrock Associates LLC - Analyst [87] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Okay. Fair enough. And then just the transmission issue, the question that came up, if I understood your answer correctly, the impact on the transmission revenues, et cetera, was pretty much what you guys had forecasted and really had to do with the closure of the units and industrial customer and really nothing with COVID. Is that correct? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [88] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Thus far. That's correct. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Operator [89] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- And we'll take our next question from Jonathan Reeder with Wells Fargo. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Jonathan Garrett Reeder, Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division - Senior Analyst [90] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Okay. So it has been a long call, so I'll try to keep it quick. Are you anticipating a block issuance then or like a dribble like you did last time? I mean, it sounds more like you're leaning towards a block and pushing that into Q1? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [91] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Well, the fact that that pushed it into Q1 has even given me more time to think about it, Jonathan. And so I have been really thinking about Q2, 3 and 4. And we do like ATMs, always have, and -- but we'll evaluate that as we get closer to when we feel we need to. We're in dialogues with the rating agencies, by the way, and that's an important aspect to our timing associated with that, too. And I feel good about the discussions there. So we'll hopefully have more to report on that in our future call, Jon. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Jonathan Garrett Reeder, Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division - Senior Analyst [92] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Okay. Sounds good. And then, Bob, how does Talen taking half of the COVID -- or C4 deal. Yes, too much COVID on my mind, right? How does Talen taking half of that deal impact your ability to control the destiny with respect to when C4 might eventually close? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert C. Rowe, NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director [93] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Well, we will still have a pretty significant say in that. And to the degree that Talen and our interests are better aligned, that's a positive. Obviously, they decided that there was value in being in for, but they will have much more ability to control that. And in addition to that, the state of Montana will have much more ability to control it. And fundamentally, I think decisions about the destiny of Unit 4 will be driven by the economics of the unit, does it meet our customers' needs in the best way possible, and then by state policy decisions in Montana. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Jonathan Garrett Reeder, Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division - Senior Analyst [94] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Okay. So that doesn't sound like you're overly concerned that they're taking the increased ownership impacts your ability to kind of keep it running through, what is it, 2043 per kind of the long-range plan that you've laid out previously. If that's what is... -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert C. Rowe, NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director [95] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- We make our -- our supply plans are based on a 20-year forecast, but they are adjusted every few years depending on facts at that time. So there's flexibility inherent in the planning process, the ability to make modifications. I'm primarily concerned about -- in terms of Talen coming into the transaction, no one party can dictate a closing date. That has to be a decision by the owners. So my real concern with Talen coming into the transaction is value that otherwise would have gone to customers and now will not. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Operator [96] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- And we'll take our next question from Eric Peterson with Millennium. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Eric Peterson, Millennium Engineering and Integration - Analyst [97] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I'll keep it quick. I think you said 10% of commercial customers will be decoupled. So what percent of residential and commercial load do you expect to be decoupled? And then when do you assume that the decoupling starts in the guidance? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Brian B. Bird, NorthWestern Corporation - CFO [98] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- We -- what we did is we expected in our analysis that this would start in July. And I do not have at my fingertips the impact of decoupling on residential and commercial loads for both Q3 and Q4, the decoupling aspect of it. It wasn't material enough because of the substantial recovery from my perspective or what I'd recall. I'm not sure the percentage of margin load that comes into effect, if you will, from the 10% -- less than 10% of customers is commercial. I should know that. I apologize I don't. I would reiterate, though, that 100% of the residential customers in the Montana electric side -- residential side are impacted. So I know that's 100% of load there. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Operator [99] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- And we currently have no questions in the queue at this time. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert C. Rowe, NorthWestern Corporation - President, CEO & Director [100] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Okay. Well, with that, thank you all very much. Normally, we're looking forward to seeing you later in other conference, and that won't be the case at least for the next 2 months, but we do appreciate your interest, good questions and support for the company. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Operator [101] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- And that does conclude today's conference. Thank you for your participation. You may now disconnect.