Associated Press

BUTTE - Montana Power Co.'s earnings and net income for the first quarter of 2001 more than doubled from the same period a year ago, the company announced Tuesday.

MPC said consolidated net income rose from 29 cents per share in the first quarter of 2000, which ended March 31, to 58 cents a share in first three months of 2001.

Robert P. Gannon, Montana Power's chairman and chief executive officer, said the sale of MPC's subsidiary, Continental Energy Services, contributed greatly to the boost in earnings during the first quarter.

That sale is part of the Butte-based utility's move to get out of the energy business and transform itself into Touch America, its growing telecommunications subsidiary.

In addition to the Continental sale, Montana Power on Monday announced it completed the sale of its coal business to a subsidiary of Westmoreland Coal Co. for $138 million in cash. It earlier sold its power generation plants to PP&L Resources of Pennsylvania, and its oil and natural gas exploration, production and marketing operations to PanCanadian Petroleum Ltd. of Calgary, Alberta.

Gannon said the first-quarter earnings highlight the progress MPC has made on two key fronts - divesting its utility businesses while expanding its role in telecommunications.

"Touch America continues to grow as revenues increased from about $25 million to

$144 million," he said in a written statement. "We will continue to expand our fiber-optic network, open new offices, add sales and sales support staff and introduce new product offerings as we satisfy the needs of our existing customers and add new ones."

During the first quarter, Touch America opened new offices in Albuquerque, N.M., Chicago, San Diego and Orange County, Calif.

Touch America currently has about 750 employees, with expectations of more than 1,000 by the end of 2001, Gannon said.

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