Companies often seem like mitochondria; coming together and tearing apart. Each individual action can seem random, but overall, the activity makes for an ecosystem moving in concert.
The trend in firms today is to divide, to move away from the conglomerate model and the much-vaunted synergies that can be gained by owning a share of every piece of an industry. Oil companies are under pressure to split their upstream exploration and production work from their downstream refining and marketing efforts, and companies across multiple sectors are besought by investors to specialize and focus on their areas of expertise.
The time to divide has come for the renewable energy industry, a number of executives in the sector claim, and recent dealmaking volume speaks to the increased division between operating companies and developing ones just emerging in the industry.
“The scale is there in the renewable industry now to divide,” First Wind CEO Paul Gaynor told Breaking Energy, “its part of a major disaggregation of operating assets and developing assets.”
His firm recently announced a deal to sell 49% of its already-operating wind farms in the Northeastern US to a partnership that includes Emera Energy, a utility holding company that operates Nova Scotia Power and other electric companies. That deal, not yet completed, is part of a broader approach that focuses on the company’s strength as a developer of wind farms, rather than a long-term power generation firm.
First Wind is looking for further partnerships in the industry; for more on the company’s price-focused strategy, see: Beyond Subsidies At First Wind.
Companies with skills developing assets are increasingly seeking large-scale partners accustomed to dealing with the complex regulatory and financial demands of an existing, operating asset like a wind or solar farm.
A similar dynamic has been at work in the technology sector of the electricity business, where companies with operating assets, like Northeast Utilities, have been working to promote partnerships with small technology developers that can help them effectively implement technology upgrades. The firm formalized its hunt for smaller development partners by hosting a “beauty contest” for startups at a recent energy conference in Boston.
Don’t Build, Buy
Renewable power asset sales were a major feature of dealmaking in the energy sector in the first six months of 2011, according to data collected by accounting firm PwC. The appetite for renewable assets remains robust, the firm said, although the slightly overall deal value in the second quarter belied a broader jump in strategic acquisitions of traditional generating assets in utility sector deals.
There were three renewable transaction deals worth $810 million in the second quarter of 2011, PwC said, compared to three deals worth $816 million in the same period the preceding year.
“There is ongoing attractiveness of adding renewable energy capacity,” US power and utilities transaction service partner Rob McCeney said. “We expect renewable energy deals to remain on the radar for both corporate and financial dealmakers as a result of a general uncertainty around ongoing legislative and regulatory changes from region to region.”
See further coverage of utility industry finance trends in Breaking Energy’s US Energy Sector Buying Rather Than Building.