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Sempra’s California Utilities Primed for Growth, Says CEO

Sempra Energy’s substantial investments in U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) and Latin America  are generating buzz on Wall Street, but the San Diego-based company is, at its core, a utility holding company, with the California units primed for growth, CEO Debra Reed said.

During the 3Q2017 conference call earlier this week, Reed said the utilities’ rate base, which is the value of all assets (minus depreciation) on which an authorized annual return can be earned, is projected to grow by $3 billion in the next five years.

Los Angeles-based Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas), the nation's largest natural gas-only distribution company, is expected to add $2 billion in rate base during the period to get close to $10 billion by 2022, while San Diego Gas and Electric Co. (SDG&E) is slated to grow its infrastructure investment by $1 billion. Last year the utilities reached a settlement with state regulators for nearly $4 billion in combined general rate cases.

Reed affirmed that following calculations made earlier this year, expectations for both capital expenditures (capex) and rate base growth are "significantly higher" for each utility.

"It is about $1 billion higher for SDG&E and $2 billion for SoCalGas from what we gave you previously at our analyst conference in the spring," Reed said. The latest estimates are part of a new rate case filing for 2022.

"We were required to use a detailed risk assessment process including the expenditures needed and the normal replacement cycle in terms of replacement capital."

Sempra also has thepending purchase of Texas-based utility Oncor Electric Delivery Co.,  by purchasing Energy Future Holdings Corp. for $9.45 billion. Oncor has committed to Texas regulators that it will spend $7.5 billion in capital infrastructure investment over the next five years to add to its rate base.

The capital commitment by Oncor is part of a general rate case in Texas, said Reed. Capex over the multi-year period is set at $8.4 billion to improve service and reduce costs.

"Oncor is investing in only transmission and distribution projects, so there is no exposure to generation assets, which we believe is the right portfolio for utilities going forward," Reed said. "The addition of Oncor will provide Sempra with even greater utility earnings growth over the next five years."

Sempra's U.S. utility base of regulated assets is widening, offering openings for more investments beyond utilities along the Gulf Coast and into Mexico, she said.

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