Photographer: Marcos Issa/Bloomberg

This Activist Is Taking a Stake in a Power Generator to Push for Clean Energy

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  • Fund founder Jeffrey Ubben to join board to help in transition
  • AES has plan to sell coal plants, invest in more renewables

Activist investor ValueAct Capital Management has taken a stake in international power producer AES Corp., and the fund’s founder Jeffrey Ubben will join its board to help push for cleaner energy resources.

Ubben will work with AES on the company’s plan to sell coal assets, reduce debt and develop more solar power and battery storage. Shares of AES jumped as much as 10 percent, the most since 2010, and traded 9.7 percent higher at $11.76 as of 9:49 a.m. in New York.

Institutional investors are increasingly pressing companies to address environmental, social and governance issues that could result in higher expenses decades down the road. The idea is to protect returns over an indefinite investment horizon as opposed to focusing on short-term profit.

“Jeff has been talking to us over the years,” AES Chief Executive Officer Andres Gluski said in a phone interview. “I think he’s supportive of the changes we’ve made and will be making to the company. He’s very interested in the AES platform as a way to adopt cleaner and more efficient technologies.”

AES’s shares have languished as it works to sell assets and achieve an investment-grade credit rating by 2020. The company, which owns seven utilities and does business in 16 countries including the U.S. and U.K., was among the worst performers in the S&P 500 Utilities Index last year. Gluski has been increasing the power producer’s investments in clean energy, buying solar developer sPower with Alberta Investment Management Corp. for $853 million and forming a battery venture with industrial giant Siemens AG.

‘Major Transition’

“We are in the midst of a major transition,” Gluski said. “We’re growing a lot of renewables, and we are selling our legacy coal assets.”

ValueAct typically takes stakes in companies and agitates for changes such as management shakeups and shifts in strategic direction. It has generally targeted companies already in transition, and Arlington, Virginia-based AES fits that description as it moves toward renewable energy for future growth. The stake in the power generator marks ValueAct’s first time taking a position in a company for environmental reasons.

“In recent years AES began a transition to become a more sustainable company by selling coal assets and investing in wind, solar and energy storage,” Ubben said in a statement Thursday. “AES is well positioned to play a leading role in bringing new energy solutions to the domestic and international markets it serves.”

The company said Ubben will also serve on its compensation and financial audit committees.

As of November 2017, about 37 percent of AES’s power production still came from coal. The company set a goal of reducing that to 33 percent by the end of 2020, according to a January investor presentation.

ValueAct manages more than $15 billion, according to the company’s website. It has active stakes in companies including private equity giant KKR & Co., Morgan Stanley, Rolls-Royce Holdings, Twenty-First Century Fox Inc., Baker Hughes Inc. and Microsoft Corp., data compiled by Bloomberg show.

— With assistance by Jim Polson

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