Edison Mission Energy, the little sibling of Southern California Edison, is growing up fast.

In the past six months it has picked up power plants in the Midwest, western Pennsylvania and Great Britain, more than doubling its assets. When those deals are finished, Edison Mission's assets will reach $17.5 billion.

The company has 48 current projects in the U.S, Australia, Spain and the United Kingdom. And it's building plants in Thailand, Italy, Turkey, Puerto Rico and Indonesia.

Altogether, Irvine-based Edison Mission Energy might be the world's biggest independent generator of electricity. Its 30,000 megawatts of capacity are nearly 1 percent of the world's total energy capacity. "That tells you something about our size," said CEO and President Edward R. Muller.

With revenue expected to approach $3 billion this year, Edison Mission Energy would be one of Southern California's larger public companies were it not a subsidiary of Rosemead-based Edison International (which is also the parent of Southern California Edison). Company-wide, Mission's growing workforce is expected to reach 3,000 employees this year.

Edison Mission Energy began in 1986 as a subsidiary of Southern California Edison to purchase and develop energy-producing facilities. In anticipation of deregulation, it became a separate unit of SCE Corp., which later changed its name to Edison International.

With deregulation now in full swing in California and spreading across the country, utilities have increasingly been buying up power plants in areas outside their territories to diversify their revenue streams. Also, a growing number of independent companies have entered the potentially lucrative market.

Last year, 86 percent of Edison International's total revenue came from its utility, while Edison Mission accounted for only 8.8 percent ($894 million) of its parent's total.

However, Edison Mission contributes a sizeable slice to total profits nearly 20 percent of Edison's $668 million in total 1998 net income.

Value Line analyst Arthur H. Medalie projects that Edison Mission Energy and mortgage lender Edison Capital will provide Edison International with half of its profits by 2001.

Muller said there are no plans to spin off Energy Mission. But the company appears to be positioning itself just in case, with a colorful annual report that looks like the kind public companies send to shareholders.

"There are people who believe that the sum of the parts might be worth more than the whole," said Credit Suisse First Boston analyst Paul Patterson. "It has a proven track record in buying assets with great returns."

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