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Contact To Build Tauhara Geothermal Power Station; Will Raise $400m In Equity.

Key metrics

 

Six months ended

31 December 2020

Six months ended

31 December 2019

EBITDAF[1]$246m11% from $221m
Profit$78m32% from $59m
Interim dividend per share14.0 cps13% from 16.0 cps
Operating free cash flow[2]$157m31% from $120m
Operating free cash flow per share21.9 cps30% from 16.8 cps
Stay-in-business capital expenditure$31m15% from $27m

Highlights

· Strong financial performance despite uncertainty of gas availability and the near-term future of major energy users.

· Result underpinned by active channel management to capture higher wholesale prices, strong asset availability, and disciplined approach to managing commodity risks.

· Several major geothermal outages completed safely, on time and under budget.

· $580m further investment approved to develop a new 152MW geothermal power station at Tauhara, near Taupō.

· $400m equity raise announced to support a capital investment programme, including the Tauhara Project.

· Strategic review of thermal assets under way over the next few months.

· Revised dividend policy to distribute ordinary dividends targeting a pay-out ratio of between 80-100% of the average operating free cash flow of the preceding four financial years.

· Interim cash dividend of 14 cents per share will be paid on 30 March 2021.

· New director Rukumoana Schaafhausen will join the Contact Board on 1 March 2021. Current director Whaimutu Dewes retires from the Board on 31 March 2021.

New Zealand energy company Contact Energy (‘Contact’) released its interim financial results for the six months to 31 December 2020 and announced it will proceed with the development of a new 152 megawatt geothermal power station at Tauhara (near Taupō) and raise $400 million of equity to support funding of the development.

Financial performance

Contact reported a statutory profit of $78m, up 32 per cent ($19m) on the same period last year. EBITDAF increased by $25m to $246m, up 11 per cent on the prior year. Operating free cash flow for the period increased from $120m to $157m in the first six months of FY21, up 31 per cent year-on-year.

Contact CEO Mike Fuge said it had been a very heartening start to the year, in a complex environment. “We’re pleased to have delivered a strong financial result despite challenging headwinds in the form of ongoing uncertainty around gas availability, and the doubt swirling around the future of the Tiwai Point smelter until the extension announced a month ago. We’re also proud to have played our part in helping secure the financial sustainability of the unique low-carbon smelter at Tiwai until at least the end of 2024.”

He said the interim result was underpinned by active channel management, strong asset availability, and a disciplined approach to managing commodity risk. “There is no room for complacency as there is an ongoing challenge around the deliverability of gas from declining gas fields and preparing for the exciting opportunity to grow demand for our low carbon energy.”

The Board has approved an interim cash dividend of 14 cents per share which will be imputed up to 9 cents per share for qualifying shareholders[3] and paid on 30 March 2021.

Tauhara geothermal development: additional $580m investment approved

The Contact Board has also confirmed the company will proceed with the $580m[4] development of a new geothermal power station on the Tauhara field, near Taupo.

Contact Chair Rob McDonald said: “We’re absolutely delighted that market conditions now allow us to proceed with this important development for New Zealand – one which has been in the planning stages for over a decade.

“We believe the Tauhara geothermal project is New Zealand’s best low-carbon renewable electricity opportunity. It will operate 24/7, is not reliant on the weather and is ideal for displacing baseload fossil fuel generation from the national grid which will significantly reduce New Zealand’s carbon emissions.”

Construction will begin shortly and is expected to be completed in the middle of 2023. Japanese engineering, procurement and construction contractor Sumitomo Corporation is leading the build, in partnership with New Zealand construction company Naylor Love and Fuji Electric.

Mr Fuge said the investment in Tauhara was a significant commitment aligned with Contact’s vision to build a better New Zealand. “It’s hugely exciting to be moving into a growth and development phase. We have a fantastic team from within and beyond Contact who will ensure the construction of a world-class power station that everyone can be very proud of.

“Proceeding with Tauhara is also the next chapter in our longstanding commitment to the central North Island and is expected to make an important contribution towards the region’s post-COVID19 economic recovery.”

Beyond those economic benefits, Mr Fuge said the development would support New Zealand’s transition to a low-carbon economy.

“Tauhara will provide a foundation to support New Zealand’s increased electricity needs over the next decade. Geothermal is something of an unsung hero in Aotearoa, but it plays a crucial role in our generation mix and the transition away from fossil fuels.”

Equity raise

Contact has also announced a $400m equity raise. The proceeds of the equity raise will initially reduce net debt and provide financial flexibility to fund the Tauhara Project and other future growth projects.

Mr McDonald said the equity raise would give Contact the flexibility to execute on a development pipeline beyond Tauhara, comprising up to $800m of additional projects including the potential replacement and expansion of the company’s geothermal power station at Wairakei. “It will mean Contact can maintain optionality in respect of future investment decisions, which will be able to be sized and timed to meet market demand.”

The equity raise will comprise a $325m underwritten placement (Placement) and a non-underwritten offer to shareholders in New Zealand and Australia to raise up to $75 million (Retail Offer).[5] Contact will retain the ability to accept oversubscriptions in connection with the Retail Offer at its discretion, with the objective of ensuring fairness for most retail shareholders.

Review of thermal assets

Mr Fuge said the company was also undertaking a strategic review of the future role of all thermal assets in the Contact portfolio.

“We believe the time is right to consider our plans for our thermal assets, including the Taranaki Combined Cycle Power Station and Peakers at Stratford, the Te Rapa Power Station and the Whirinaki Peaker Plant. We expect this review will take several months.”

Dividend policy revised

The Board of Contact has updated the company’s dividend policy. Under the new policy, Contact will distribute ordinary dividends targeting a pay-out ratio of between 80 per cent and 100 per cent of the average operating free cash flow[6] of the preceding four financial years.[7] For the FY21 financial year, the target payment for the full year dividend is 35 cents per share.

Contact also intends to implement a dividend reinvestment plan and will be providing shareholders with more information on this in the coming months. The dividend reinvestment plan will not apply to the dividend to be paid on 30 March 2021.

Outlook

Looking ahead, Mr Fuge said Contact was committed to leading the decarbonisation of New Zealand. “We are excited about the critical role that Contact’s renewable electricity generation is set to play in the decarbonisation of the New Zealand economy over the next decade.

“As the Climate Change Commission signalled last month, renewable electricity provides a key solution to the climate change equation. Sectors such as transport and industrial process heat will need to move to low-emission electricity for their energy supply, and away from their stubborn reliance on high-carbon fossil fuels.”

He said the Contact team was looking forward to accelerating its refreshed growth strategy and building on the company’s strong record of operational performance delivery. “Today’s announcements of the Tauhara investment and the strategic review of the future role of all thermal assets in the Contact portfolio are the next steps on this exciting journey.”

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