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Algonquin to exit renewables; interim CEO predicts 'very attractive' deal

Company says its renewables business has 2.7 gigawatts of gross generating capacity

Algonquin says its renewables business has 2.7 gigawatts of gross generating capacity across 46 facilities.
Algonquin says its renewables business has 2.7 gigawatts of gross generating capacity across 46 facilities. (seksan Mongkhonkhamsao via Getty Images)

Algonquin Power & Utilities' (AQN.TO)(AQN) new interim CEO says the renewable energy business the company intends to sell to improve its balance sheet has already received interest from potential buyers, suggesting the assets will be "very attractive to the marketplace."

Algonquin on Thursday announced company insider Christopher Huskilson would replace chief executive Arun Banskota on an interim basis. The change came as the company revealed a plan to sell its renewable energy division following a strategic review launched in May. The decision follows months of pressure from multiple activist investors dissatisfied with Algonquin's tumbling share price and debt load from recent acquisitions.

Algonquin's Toronto-listed stock fell 3.29 per cent to $7.51 as at 10:41 a.m. ET on Thursday. Shares are down more than 43 per cent over the past 12 months.

Speaking on a post-earnings conference call with analysts, Huskilson says Oakville, Ont.-based Algonquin aims to become a "pure-play" regulated utility through the sale of its wind and solar power portfolio, which spans 11 U.S. states and six Canadian provinces.

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"Clean, affordable and reliable energy and water will be the focus of our regulated business," Huskilson said on Thursday.

He declined to estimate how much the company could receive from a sale of its renewable energy business, citing a desire not to influence a competitive process. The company said in January that it planned to raise $1 billion through asset sales.

"We're not going to give these assets away," Huskilson said. "We have actually had inbounds already, and some very interesting opportunities where people are interested in new portfolios, and this is one. It is a portfolio at scale. It has a tremendous development pipeline, and we think it's going to be very attractive to the marketplace."

With 2.7 gigawatts of gross generating capacity across 46 facilities, Huskilson says the portfolio is well-positioned to benefit from the transition to cleaner forms of energy.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Nelson Ng calls Thursday's announcements by Algonquin "consistent with what the activist investors want," in a note to clients. However, he says the company may struggle to get a high price for its renewables business given the timing.

"We continue to believe that it may not be an ideal time to divest the renewables business due to the high interest rate environment, and a recent U.S. utility that divested its renewables business did not achieve an attractive valuation," Ng wrote on Thursday.

He maintains a "sector perform" rating on New York-listed shares, with a price target of US$9.

Jeff Lagerquist is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jefflagerquist.

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