Money: Enmax's Maine purchase stirs controversy south of the border - - PressFrom - Canada
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Money Enmax's Maine purchase stirs controversy south of the border

10:05  19 october  2019
10:05  19 october  2019 Source:   calgaryherald.com

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Enmax Corp.’ s proposed US.3 billion purchase of a Maine -based electricity company is stirring up controversy south of the border , where local lawmakers and union officials have questioned whether the City of Calgary-owned utility is taking on an alarmingly risky level of debt to finance the deal.

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a sign on the side of a building: Enmax Corp.'s proposed $1.3 billion USD purchase of a Maine-based electricity company is stirring up controversy south of the border, where local lawmakers and union officials have questioned whether the City of Calgary-owned utility is taking on an alarmingly risky level of debt to finance the deal.© Gavin Young Enmax Corp.'s proposed $1.3 billion USD purchase of a Maine-based electricity company is stirring up controversy south of the border, where local lawmakers and union officials have questioned whether the City of Calgary-owned utility is taking on an alarmingly risky level of debt to finance the deal.

Enmax Corp.’s proposed US$1.3 billion purchase of a Maine-based electricity company is stirring up controversy south of the border, where local lawmakers and union officials have questioned whether the City of Calgary-owned utility is taking on an alarmingly risky level of debt to finance the deal.

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Enmax representatives — including CEO Gianna Manes — have been to the New England state on multiple occasions in recent months to meet with community leaders, employees and customers of Emera Maine, the publicly traded company Enmax plans to purchase as part of its efforts to diversify and grow its regulated electricity business. The deal, which was announced in March of this year, is expected to close in late 2019 or early 2020, subject to a regulatory approval process currently under way.

The acquisition — which Enmax has said will help it generate stronger returns and potentially increase the annual dividend it pays to the City of Calgary — has been criticized here at home by those who worry the utility is assuming too much debt. Just last week, credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded Enmax by one level, from triple B+ to triple B over concerns about the estimated $455 million in debt the company is taking on.

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But the deal has also come under scrutiny in the U.S., where stakeholders have questioned whether Emera Maine customers and employees could suffer if Enmax takes on too much debt.

a tall building in a city:  The Enmax power plant on 9th avenue southeast in downtown Calgary was photographed on Monday March 25, 2019.© Gavin Young The Enmax power plant on 9th avenue southeast in downtown Calgary was photographed on Monday March 25, 2019.

“We just want to make sure they can financially handle this acquisition,” said Dick Rogers, business manager with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1837, which represents about 225 Emera Maine employees. “We’re not against it (the deal). It may be a good thing, but we certainly have these concerns. And number one is jobs.”

In August, according to the Bangor Daily News, Maine Senate president Troy Jackson said the state’s Public Utilities Commission should make sure that Enmax does not over-leverage itself to finance the purchase.

“We don’t want to see a situation where they have to raise rates really high just to clear their debt, and we certainly don’t want them to lay off workers, or a combination of both,” Jackson is quoted as saying. “And so the PUC’s got to make sure that this is even viable to start with.”

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Enmax vice-president of public affairs Diana Stephenson said in an interview that the company does not anticipate any work force reductions or rate increases for Emera Maine’s 159,000 customers as a result of the deal. While Enmax said in March the acquisition would be 100 per cent debt financed, Stephenson said the deal is now expected to be independently financed “using a percentage of debt financing.”

“We remain confident and well prepared to appropriately pay down this debt over time,” Stephenson said. “It’s totally natural that customers and stakeholders would have questions, and it’s our responsibility to make sure we’re not only listening to those questions but providing information.”

The state of Maine has recently passed a new law that will require Enmax to prove a “net benefit” to Emera Maine ratepayers before receiving regulatory approval from the Public Utilities Commission. Previously, companies wishing to buy Maine utilities only had to prove that ratepayers would suffer no harm as a result of their proposed transaction.

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Last month, David Brevitz — a consultant for the Maine Office of the Public Advocate, Maine’s top consumer advocate — submitted testimony to the regulator saying Enmax’s proposed deal does not meet the new standard.

“Unless there are further significant protections or conditions put in place to provide tangible measures to address the financial risks created by the proposed transaction . . . it is not clear that there would be a net benefit to ratepayers,” Brevitz wrote in the publicly available testimony , which has been posted online by the Bangor Daily News.

The regulator itself has also raised questions about the deal. In a report released by Public Utilities Commission staff and posted online by the Bangor Daily News, the PUC writes that it is concerned that the “City of Calgary could interfere with, or exert undue influence over, Emera Maine’s management and operations.”

The report also said the regulator is concerned that Enmax is taking on a lot of debt to finance the deal and could try to “‘mine’ earnings from Emera Maine by cutting back on infrastructure-related investments and operations and maintenance budgets in order to satisfy its purchase related debt requirements.”

Stephenson said all of the questions asked thus far are “expected areas of discussion” and added Enmax is addressing all of them as the regulatory process continues.

“We continue to be really actively engaged in the Maine utilities process that’s under way right now, and we continue to focus through that,” Stephenson said. “We will hopefully be closing in the period we had initially planned for.”

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Twitter: @AmandaMsteph

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