Acquisition activity up for North American utilities
Merger and acquisition activity in the North American power and utilities industry increased in the fourth quarter of 2013 on both a year-over-year and sequential quarter basis as companies continued reshuffling portfolios with a focus on their core businesses and strategic opportunities.
There were 14 power and utilities transactions greater than $50 million in the fourth quarter of 2013, compared to 12 deals in the previous quarter and 13 during the fourth quarter of 2012. Bolstered by two large corporate deals worth nearly $7.4 billion, fourth quarter deal value reached $10.3 billion, more than doubling the deal values of third quarter 2013 and fourth quarter 2012.
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“Closing out the year with such a high level of activity is a positive sign for 2014 deal activity. Investors continue to be attracted to assets that generate strong yields, and combined with cash on the sidelines, sellers are seeing this as a good time to bring assets to market,” said Jeremy Fago, PwC's U.S. power & utilities deals leader. “We're also seeing increased activity around assets in regions of tightening supply and demand dynamics, as well as those fitting the YieldCo investment profile.”
Strategic investors accounted for 93 percent of deals greater than $50 million announced during the fourth quarter, compared to 72 percent in the third quarter, with financial investor activity carrying out the remaining 7 percent of deals.
“Private equity players have been focusing on regions with tightening supply, specifically Texas, for opportunities in the generation side of the business and to expand their power and utilities portfolio,” added Rob McCeney, PwC US energy & infrastructure deals partner.
Six alternative power deals in the fourth quarter marked a high for the year. While these transactions had smaller deal values, they showed there is an interest in alternative deals, especially wind related transactions.
Ofwat allows retailers to raise prices from April
Retailers can recover a portion of excess bad debt by temporarily increasing prices from April 2022, according to an Ofwat statement.
The regulator confirmed its view that levels of bad debt costs across the business retail market are exceeding 2% of non-household revenue, thereby allowing "a temporary increase" in the maximum prices. Adjustments to price caps will apply for a minimum of two years to reduce the step changes in price that customers might experience.
Measures introduced since March 2020 to contain the spread of Covid-19 could lead to retailers facing higher levels of customer bad debt. Retailers’ abilities to respond to this are expected to be constrained by Ofwat strengthening protections for non-household customers during Covid-19 and the presence of price caps.
In April last year, Ofwat committed to provide additional regulatory protection if bad debt costs across the market exceeded 2% of non-household revenue.
Georgina Mills, Business Retail Market Director at Ofwat said: “These decisions aim to protect the interests of non-household customers in the short and longer term, including from the risk of systemic Retailer failure as the business retail market continues to feel the impacts of COVID-19. By implementing market-wide adjustments to price caps, we aim to minimise any additional costs for customers in the shorter term by promoting efficiency and supporting competition.”
There are also three areas where Ofwat has not reached definitive conclusions and is seeking further evidence and views from stakeholders:
- Pooling excess bad debt costs – Ofwat proposes that the recovery of excess bad debt costs is pooled across all non-household customers, via a uniform uplift to price caps.
- Keeping open the option of not pursuing a true up – For example if outturn bad debt costs are not materially higher than the 2% threshold.
- Undertaking the true up – If a 'true up' is required, Ofwat has set out how it expects this to work in practice.
Further consultation on the proposed adjustments to REC price caps can be expected by December.
"While it’s great that regulators are helping the industry deal with bad debt in the wake of the pandemic, raising prices only treats the symptoms. Instead, water companies should head upstream, using customer data to identify and rectify the causes of bad debt, stop it at source and help prevent it from occurring in the first place," she said.
"While recouping costs is a must, water companies shouldn’t just rely on the regulator. Data can help companies segment customers, identify and assist customers that are struggling financially, avoiding penalising the entire customer in tackling the cause of the issue."
United Utilities picks up pipeline award
A race-against-time plumbing job to connect four huge water pipes into the large Haweswater Aqueduct in Cumbria saw United Utilities awarded Utility Project of the Year by Pipeline Industries Guild.
The Hallbank project, near Kendal, was completed within a tight eight-day deadline, in a storm and during the second COVID lockdown last November – and with three hours to spare. Principal construction manager John Dawson said the project helped boost the resilience of water supplies across the North West.
“I think what made us stand out was the scale, the use of future technology and the fact that we were really just one team, working collaboratively for a common goal," he said.
Camus Energy secures $16m funding
Camus Energy, which provides advanced grid management technology, has secured $16 million in a Series A round, led by Park West Asset Management and joined by Congruent Ventures, Wave Capital and other investors, including an investor-owned utility. Camus will leverage the operating capital to expand its grid management software platform to meet growing demand from utilities across North America.
As local utilities look to save money and increase their use of clean energy by tapping into low-cost and low-carbon local resources, Camus' grid management platform provides connectivity between the utility's operations team, its grid-connected equipment and customer devices.