NextEra Energy Inc., North America’s largest generator of wind and solar power, agreed to buy Hawaii’s biggest electricity provider in a bet it can reduce the nation’s highest rates by using more renewable energy.
NextEra sees Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc., which serves 95 percent of the state, as a testing ground for the coming transition from fossil fuels to power generated from the sun and wind. Hawaiian Electric is among utility owners most vulnerable to challenges by solar power as more customers generate electricity from rooftop systems.
“You can think about Hawaii as a postcard from the future of what’s going to happen in the electric industry in the United States,” James Robo, chairman and chief executive officer of Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra, said by phone interview yesterday. “As renewable generation gets cheaper, as electric storage becomes more efficient and possible, all electric utilities are going to have to face this.”
For a state with electricity rates about three times the national average, wind and solar may be more competitive than conventional power. About 11 percent of Hawaiian Electric customers have rooftop solar systems, the highest penetration in the U.S., according to the Honolulu-based utility owner. The utility has said it wants to cut rates by 20 percent over the next 15 years by boosting renewable energy to 65 percent of its electricity mix.
Hawaiian Electric rose 16 percent to $32.72 at 10:31 a.m. in New York after earlier rising as much as 19 percent, the biggest intraday gain since at least 1980. NextEra fell 1.4 percent to $102.97.
Solar electricity, helped by federal and state tax incentives, is already as cheap as utility-supplied power in 10 states including Hawaii, Deutsche Bank AG said in a report published in October.
NextEra can add more renewables and transition to cleaner fuels while lowering customer bills in Hawaii, Robo said. Hawaii relies on imported oil for its generators.
NextEra, the nation’s largest buyer of natural gas, can also help Hawaii import cleaner burning liquefied natural gas to generate power, said Hawaiian Electric Chairman and CEO Constance Lau in a conference call with investors.
Holders of Hawaiian Electric will receive 0.2413 shares in NextEra plus a 50-cent one-time dividend for each share they own, the companies said yesterday in a joint statement. As part of the deal, Hawaiian Electric will also spin off the parent of American Savings Bank.
Including an estimated $8 a share from the bank spin off, the deal values Hawaiian Electric at about $33.50, the companies said during an investor presentation. Without the spin off, the cash and stock amounts to $25.69 a share, or $2.63 billion, based on yesterday’s closing prices.
Including debt, the total value of the transaction is about $4.3 billion.
NextEra “may have materially overpaid” for Hawaiian Electric, in part because it’s assuming a tax liability as part of the spin off, Sanford C. Bernstein analysts led by Hugh Wynne said today in a note to clients.
Hawaiian Electric was incorporated in 1891 from a royal charter by King David Kalakaua, before Hawaii became part of the U.S., according to the company’s website.
The deal requires approval from state and federal regulators and shareholders. It’s expected to be completed within about 12 months. NextEra won’t fire any workers at Hawaiian Electric for at least two years after the close, the companies said.
Citigroup Inc. is serving as financial adviser to NextEra Energy, and Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz is legal counsel. JPMorgan Chase & Co. is advising Hawaiian Electric, with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP as legal counsel.