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NextEra Expands Florida Natural Gas Generation in $6.5B Deal with Southern Company

NextEra Energy, Inc. (NEE), the self-proclaimed largest utility company in the world, announced an agreement Monday with Southern Company to acquire Gulf Power, Florida City Gas and ownership interests in the Oleander and Stanton natural gas generating plants in Florida in deals valued at about $6.475 billion, including $1.4 billion of debt.

The transactions would allow Gulf Power and Florida City Gas (FCG) to continue their customer-focused business models and “strong commitments to safety, reliability, customer service and community engagement,” Southern Company management said.

"These Florida businesses are being sold at a price that provides substantial value to our stockholders, while entrusting the customers of these exceptional franchises to a high-quality utility company that has a well-established presence in the state,” Southern Company CEO Thomas Fanning said in a press release.

Indeed, NextEra subsidiary Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) serves nearly five million Florida customer accounts or an estimated 10 million people across nearly half of the state. The parent company’s culture of “continuous improvement and focus on smart investments that reduce operations and maintenance (O&M) expenses” has helped drive significant productivity enhancements. For the past four years, FPL has had the lowest non-fuel O&M cost per kilowatt-hour in the country, NextEra said.

Gulf Power serves about 450,000 customers in eight counties throughout northwest Florida and has roughly 9,500 miles of power lines and 2,300 MW of electric generating capacity. FCG serves close to 110,000 residential and commercial natural gas customers in Miami-Dade, Brevard, St. Lucie and Indian River counties with 3,700 miles of gas pipelines.

The Oleander plant, in which NextEra would have a 100% ownership, is a 791 MW gas-fired, simple-cycle generation plant near Cocoa with power purchase agreements with the Florida Municipal Power Agency (FMPA) and Seminole Electric Cooperative.

Under terms of the agreement, NextEra Energy would acquire a 65% ownership interest in Stanton Energy Center, a 660 MW combined-cycle electric generating unit near Orlando. The interest is contracted with the Orlando Utilities Commission and FMPA.

The acquisitions of Gulf Power and the ownership interests in the Oleander and Stanton generating plants are subject to approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and customary regulatory approvals. NextEra expects to complete the acquisition of FCG in the third quarter, with the Gulf Power and gas generating plant acquisitions anticipated to close in the first half of 2019.

The transactions will provide “meaningful benefits” for the state of Florida, and Gulf Power and Florida City Gas customers, as well as NextEra shareholders, NextEra CEO Jim Robo said.

Following the financing of the transactions and as a result of expanding its regulated operations, NextEra expects to continue to maintain $5-7 billion of excess balance sheet capacity with which to further support its long-term growth. The company is also raising its 2020 and 2021 adjusted earnings per share (EPS) expectations by 15 cents and 20 cents, respectively, upon closing with its 2020 adjusted EPS expectations of $8.70-9.20 and its 2021 adjusted EPS expectations to be $9.40-9.95.

Proceeds from the sales would reduce debt and improve Atlanta-based Southern Company's balance sheet. “The opportunity to fund the business without raising significant additional capital makes the value proposition of these transactions even stronger,” the company said.

Southern Company, through its subsidiary Georgia Power, is in the midst of building the first nuclear generating plant in the United States in decades. At a total projected cost of $7.3 billion, the first unit (Vogtle 3) has a target in-service date of November 2021. Vogtle 4 is expected to come online one year later.

News of the acquisition by midday Monday sent NextEra stock up more than 2% to $159.62, while Southern Company stock was up about 1.6% to $43.415.

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