Midwestern utility Evergy pushed back Tuesday against a report from Reuters that it rebuffed a $15 billion acquisition bid from NextEra Energy, the U.S. renewable energy leader that's been seeking to take advantage of its high stock price to expand its roster of regulated utilities in recent years.
Evergy replied to Reuters’ anonymously sourced report with a Tuesday statement contending that "there is currently no offer or bid from any third party for a potential transaction." It also reiterated that its ongoing Sustainability Transformation Plan, which calls for cutting its emissions by 80 percent by 2050, is its highest priority at this time.
Debbie Larsson, a spokesperson for NextEra Energy, said in a Tuesday interview with Greentech Media that the company does not comment on market rumors as a matter of policy.
Evergy, which serves 1.6 million customers in Kansas and Missouri, was formed in 2018 by the merger of Westar Energy and Great Plains Energy, the parent company of Kansas City Power & Light. It was under pressure from shareholder Elliott Management Corp. to seek a buyer last year, but its board of directors acted to forestall the prospect of a takeover.
UPDATE: Elliott Management released a statement on Tuesday calling on Evergy to "act in accordance with its fiduciary duty to immediately reengage with NextEra and fully explore the possibility of a transaction that maximizes value for Evergy's stakeholders."
Tuesday's statement continued on to say: "While we are always open to new ideas and opportunities that have the potential to enhance shareholder value, we remain confident that the [Sustainability Transformation Plan], which Elliott publicly endorsed when it was announced, is the best risk-adjusted path forward and that all appropriate steps are being and have been taken to maximize shareholder value."
NextEra, whose country-leading renewable energy portfolio has helped make it the most valuable U.S. utility in terms of market capitalization, has been seeking for years to acquire regulated utilities across the country. But beyond last year’s $6.4 billion acquisition of Florida utilities Gulf Power and Florida City Gas from previous owner Southern Company, it has so far been unsuccessful in that pursuit.
In 2016, NextEra’s $4.3 billion bid for Hawaiian Electric was rejected by Hawaii regulators, who found that giving an out-of-state owner control of its primary investor-owned utility was not in the public interest.
State regulators rejected NextEra’s next bid, an $18 billion offer for Texas utility Oncor, in 2017 on concerns that the deal would not protect the credit rating of the distribution utility amid the Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding of parent company Energy Future Holdings Corp.
Oncor was eventually sold to California-based Sempra Energy, the owner of San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Gas, after Energy Future Holdings rejected a competing bid from Berkshire Hathaway Energy, which owns utilities including PacifiCorp and MidAmerican Energy Holdings.
In September, NextEra saw a proposal to merge with Duke Energy rebuffed as well, according to news reports. That deal would have combined NextEra’s Florida utilities with Duke’s utilities in Florida, the Carolinas, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, as well as Duke’s sizable portfolio of renewable energy under its Duke Energy Renewables business.
Amid this welter of mergers and acquisitions proposed or consummated, U.S. utilities have been grappling with the pressure to decarbonize their generation portfolios, seek early retirement of financially challenged and carbon-emitting coal-fired power plants, and in some cases to shift from competitive generation or fossil fuels businesses to regulated utility businesses with more stable revenue prospects.
Virginia-based Dominion Energy sold its interstate natural-gas pipeline business to Berkshire Hathaway this year to concentrate on its regulated utilities in the Southeastern U.S. and meeting Virginia's new mandate to eliminate carbon emissions by 2045. Michigan utility DTE Energy, another utility pursuing decarbonization by midcentury, is seeking to divest from its DTE Midstream competitive natural-gas business.
And Exelon Corp., the Chicago-based owner of the country’s largest nuclear power fleet as well as utilities serving about 10 million customers in Illinois and mid-Atlantic states, confirmed this month that it’s exploring strategic alternatives for its generation business as it prepares to close at least two of its nuclear power plants amid unfavorable market conditions.
Despite its massive renewables fleet, NextEra has yet to commit to a zero-carbon goal, instead setting a target to reduce its carbon emissions rate 67 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. That differentiates it from a growing list of utilities promising net-zero carbon power by midcentury, including Xcel Energy, Duke Energy, Dominion Energy, Southern Company, Arizona Public Service, NRG, PSEG, Consumers Energy, Alliant Energy and Entergy.