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Mar 25, 2019

TransAlta lines up $750M investment from Brookfield amid activist pressure

TransAlta shares rise on investment deal with Brookfield Renewable


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Brookfield Asset Management Inc. will invest $750 million in power producer TransAlta Corp. and nominate two directors to its board.

Brookfield will also use the investment to increase its stake in the Calgary-based utility to about 9 per cent under certain conditions, according to a statement Monday. The deal allows Brookfield to convert its investment into an equity interest in TransAlta’s Alberta hydro assets at a later date.

The investment is being made through Brookfield’s publicly traded renewable-energy arm, Brookfield Renewable Partners.

The two parties have held conversations over the years about various transactions but ultimately decided to proceed with the deal because it allows TransAlta to crystalize the future value of hydro assets and speed up its transition to clean energy, said Dawn Farrell, TransAlta chief executive officer, in an interview.

“Brookfield is a big and sophisticated company that has huge ownership in renewables and hydro,” Farrell said. “No amount of pressure would make this kind of transaction come together. It requires people who understand the industry, understand infrastructure, and understand each other.”

Clean Energy

TransAlta will use the proceeds from the investment to move toward its goal of producing 100 per cent clean energy by 2025. Brookfield holds a 4.9 per cent stake in the company, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The move comes as the Calgary-based Transalta faces pressure from investors Mangrove Partners and C. John Wilder’s Bluescape Energy Partners, which disclosed a 10 per cent stake in the company this month and said they planned to push for changes including a potential board revamp.

The deal with Brookfield had nothing to do with the activists knocking at its door and is in keeping with its strategy to transition to clean energy, Farrell said.

“Mangrove is no different than any of our other shareholders. Everybody is looking for us to catalyze and bring forward that strategy. As we’ve been listening to our shareholders, that’s the clear message that we’ve heard,” Farrell said.

The deal will also see Brookfield’s vice-chairmen, Harry Goldgut and Richard Legault, nominated to the company’s slate of director nominees at its annual general meeting. Robert Flexon, the former CEO of Dynegy Inc., will also be added to the slate.

“We look forward to contributing our capabilities, particularly our long-term expertise in the hydro sector, to enable the company’s growth over the long-term,” said Sachin Shah, Brookfield Renewable Partners’s chief executive officer.

Share Buyback

TransAlta began selling shares in its renewable-energy unit in 2013, forming TransAlta Renewables Inc. as a separate company. It’s still the biggest investor in that company, with a stake of about 51 per cent -- held jointly with a generation partnership -- that’s valued at about $1.8 billion based on current share prices.

TransAlta will use about $350 million of the proceeds from the investment to advance its strategy to move from coal to gas generation by 2025, and as much as US$250 million on a share buyback, it said.

Shares in TransAlta fell about 25 per cent last year, but have made a rapid recovery since the start of 2019 as the company generates cash after reporting two straight years of net losses. The stock is up 62 per cent year to date and closed Friday at $9.08 apiece in Toronto, valuing TransAlta at about $2.6 billion.