The merger of Northern States Power and New Century Energies has cleared a major hurdle, as federal regulators voted to approve it. The combination to form Xcel Energy would result in a company serving 4.5 customers, making it the 8th largest in the USA.

Approval from individual states is required. Progress here is as follows:

• Minnesota. Agreement reached with customer groups, environmentalists and public advocates.

• Kansas. Merger approved.

• Oklahoma. Specific merger approval not required.

• New Mexico. Merger hearing set for the end of January 2000.

• Texas. Merger hearing set for mid-March 2000.

• Colorado. Regulatory hearing due to start January 31, 2000.

• Wyoming. Rgeulatory hearings due to start March 2000.

• Arizona. Report before commission.

• North Dakota. Hearings scheduled for February 2000.

Officials have agreed to rate cuts and freezes for four years after completion of the merger.