Logo of jester cap with thought bubble with words 'Fool Transcripts' below it

Image source: The Motley Fool.

Southern Company (NYSE:SO)
Q4 2017 Earnings Conference Call
Feb. 21, 2018, 1:00 p.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. My name is Frank, and I will be your conference operator today. At this time, I would like to welcome everybody to the Southern Company Fourth Quarter 2017 Earnings Call. All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. After the speakers' remarks, there will be a question-and-answer session. At that time, if you have a question, please press the 1 followed by the 4 on your telephone. If at any time during the conference you need to reach an operator, please press *0. As a reminder, this conference is being recorded on Wednesday, February 21, 2018.

Southern Company's Fourth Quarter Earnings Call will feature slides that are available on our Investor Relations website. You can access the slides at www.investor.southerncompany.com/webcast.

I would now like to turn the call over to Mr. Aaron Abramovitz, Director of Investor Relations. Please go ahead.

Aaron Abramovitz -- Director of Investor Relations

Thank you, Frank. Welcome to Southern Company's fourth quarter 2017 earnings call. Joining me this afternoon are Tom Fanning, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Southern Company, and Art Beattie, Chief Financial Officer.

Let me remind you that we will make forward-looking statements today in addition to providing historical information. Various important factors could cause actual results to differ materially from those indicated in the forward-looking statements, including those discussed in our Form 10-K and subsequent filings.

In addition, we will present non-GAAP financial information on this call. Reconciliations to the applicable GAAP measure are included in the financial information we released this morning as well as the slides for this conference call. The slides we will discuss during today's call may be reviewed on our Investor Relations website at investor.southerncompany.com.

At this time, I'll turn the call over to Tom Fanning.

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Good afternoon and thank you for joining us. As always, we appreciate your interest in Southern Company. As we report our 2017 results and look ahead to 2018 and beyond, our focus remains on investing in premier, state-regulated utilities and providing outstanding, risk-adjusted returns for investors. Whether it's great customer satisfaction, high reliability, strong economy, constructive regulatory frameworks or credit quality, our portfolio of electric and gas utilities is a tremendous driver of value. Additionally, Southern Power's large national portfolio of long-term, contracted, renewable and natural gas assets and power secure small but growing portfolio of distributed energy resources continue to be great complements to our customer-focused business model.

In 2017, we continued to provide the best customer service in the business. In fact, Southern Company and its four state-regulated electric utilities continued to achieve the top five rankings on the customer value benchmark survey while Nicor Gas and Virginia Natural Gas were named among the most trusted brands in their industry.

Customers are at the center of everything we do, and our utility franchises operate in some of the most constructive jurisdictions in the country as evidenced by rate outcomes at some of our electric and gas utilities. 2017 represented one of our strongest operational performance years in recent history. Our transmission team had its best year ever, and our generation fleet performed exceptionally well. We also continued our track record of outstanding storm response during an active 2017 hurricane season.

Let's turn now to Plant Vogtle 3 and 4. Over the course of 2017, Georgia Power and the plants other co-owners successfully navigated the bankruptcy filing by the project's primary contractor Westinghouse. South Nuclear, the licensee and eventual operator of the plant, successfully assumed control of the site, and the Vogtle owners brought nuclear experienced Bechtel on site as the prime contractor. The project owners also negotiated a new services contract with Westinghouse, which includes the necessary intellectual property rights to complete and run the project.

Georgia Power filed its recommendation to complete the plant in August of 2017. Since then, there have been significant risk-mitigating milestones. First, in September, Georgia Power received a $1.7 billion conditional commitment for incremental DOE loan guarantees, which now total $5.13 billion, and are expected to save Georgia Power customers over $500 million in interest costs. Between October and December, the Vogtle owners received 100% of the $3.7 billion Toshiba guarantee obligation, of which Georgia Power share is $1.7 billion.

In late December, the Georgia Public Service Commission unanimously approved and deemed reasonable the revised project cost and schedule estimates, which included an additional $1.6 billion in costs. as well as November 2021 and November 2022 in-service dates bringing in units 3 and 4 respectively. As part of the approval, the commission further adjusted ROEs during construction and allowed for decoupling of the rate-base treatment of unit 3 and unit 4. Recall in 2016 the commission deemed or presumed prudent $5.68 billion in project costs.

And more recently following extensive, bipartisan efforts in the House and in the Senate, the United States Congress eliminated the deadline for receiving advanced nuclear production tax credits, providing approximately $1 billion in future benefits for Georgia Power customers. We are grateful to the current administration and Congress for recognizing the importance of new nuclear generation and demonstrating renewed federal support for Vogtle 3 and 4. And at the state level, the Georgia Public Service Commission continued its vision and support by moving this project forward.

Now for an update on construction at Vogtle 3 and 4. Since Southern Nuclear has taken control of the site, we have sustained improvements in productivity and critical path execution. As you can see in the materials provided this morning, the team at the site is working toward a construction schedule that is approximately eight months in advance of the November 2021 and November 2022 in-service dates that were approved by the Georgia Public Service Commission. Productivity is on track with milestones continuing to be met, including the placement of the 225,000-pound unit 3 pressurizer in January and the placement of 1,300 cubic yards of concrete inside the unit 4 containment vessel in December. Of course, there is a long way to go, but these early results are encouraging.

And, finally, federal tax reform has been a hot topic for many, and it is no different for Southern Company. The net effect of the new law is that it is tremendously beneficial to customers and our economy. The lower corporate tax rate and the preservation of interest deductibility for utilities are expected to lower customer bills over the long term and help drive continued economic growth throughout our service territories. However, in conjunction with those benefits, the new law also reduces cash flow to our company. We are keenly focused on preserving our credit profile. Strong credit ratings accrue to the benefit of all of our stakeholders, and preserving those ratings is the focus of ongoing dialogue with our state regulators. As Art will cover later, we will work to support our ratings in a customer and investor-friendly manner.

I'll turn the call over now to Art for a financial review.

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Tom. Good afternoon, everyone. As you can see from the materials released this morning, the adjusted results for the fourth quarter of 2017 exceeded our estimates, and for the full year of 2017, we earned at the top end of our guidance range on an adjusted basis. For the fourth quarter of 2017, we had reported earnings of $496 million, or $0.49per share, compared with $197 million, or $0.20 cents per share in the fourth quarter of 2016. For the full year of 2017, reported earnings were $842 million, or $0.84 cents per share, compared with $2.45 billion, or $2.57 per share, in 2016.

On an adjusted basis, for the fourth quarter, Southern Company earned $509 million, or $0.51 per share, compared with earnings of $295 million, or $0.30 cents per share, during the fourth quarter of 2016. For the full-year of 2017, on an adjusted basis-which excludes the charges associated with the Kemper project, along with the related AFUDC equity resulting from extending the schedule prior to the suspension of construction, charges associated with plant sharer, unit 3, as a part of Gulf Power's rate-case settlement; wholesale gas services; acquisition and integration costs; and the net impacts of federal tax reform legislation-Southern Company earned $3.02 billion, or $3.02 per share, compared with earnings of $2.76 billion, or $2.90 a share, in 2016. A reconciliation of our as-reported and as-adjusted results is included in the materials we released this morning.

The major earnings drivers for the full year of 2017, when compared to our $2.90 per share adjusted results for 2016, were the inclusion of a full year of Southern Company Gas including our 50% interest in the Southern Natural Gas pipeline, retail revenue effects at our state-regulated electric utilities, and an aggressive management of ONM at our state-regulated utilities, offset by mild weather, increased interest expense, and increased shares.

Before we cover the details of our 2018 guidance and long-term outlook, I'd like to cover the impact of tax reform on our financial outlook. As Tom mentioned earlier, tax reform clearly provides an enormous benefit to customers and the economy. This opportunity, however, comes with a cost in the form of lower operating cash flows at our state-regulated utilities and, absent mitigation, lower FFO-to-debt ratio. As we engage with each of our state regulatory jurisdictions regarding the impacts of tax reform, our objective is to provide meaningful rate benefits to customers while preserving our credit quality, which clearly benefits customers over the long run.

Working constructively with our regulators, we are seeking to implement a variety of balanced-still solutions which achieve both of those key objectives. For example, in some cases, we'll seek to preserve cash flow by amortizing existing regulatory assets as an offset to tax-related regulatory liability. Also, where possible, we'll look to reduce debt at the utility level, which comes in the form of a higher mix of equity in our regulated capital structures. And, finally, to ensure adequate credit metrics, we expect some level of deleveraging at the parent company as well. Successful execution of this strategy will result in a financial outlook with less leverage and stronger credit quality, which support the value proposition from our state-regulated utility.

Now turning to our 2018 EPS guidance, as you can see in the materials provided this morning, our 2018 EPS guidance range is $2.80 per share to $2.95 per share with a midpoint of $2.87. A key driver for the starting point of this range is the receipt by Georgia Power of 100% of it's $1.7 billion portion of the Toshiba parent guarantee. Our success in this effort represents an important benefit to shareholders through a significant risk reduction for the Vogtle 3 and 4 project and results in lower costs for Georgia Power customers during construction. A high-level reconciliation of our 2018 EPS guidance range is available in the materials for this call. As for the earnings estimate for the first quarter of 2018, we estimate that we'll earn $0.84 per share.

Looking toward our long-term outlook, starting with the 2018 midpoint of $2.87 per share, our long-term earning per share growth outlook is 4% to 6%. It's important to note that the year-over-year earnings contribution from Vogtle units 3 and 4 over the next several years is not linear due to the various construction period ROEs recently approved in VCM '17. The earnings from Vogtle 3 and 4 represent less than 6% of our expected earnings over the next five years. Removing the Vogtle 3 and 4 contribution from the mix results in an underlying Southern Company earnings profile supported by strong growth across our state-regulated electric and gas utilities that is still expected to grow at 4% to 6%. Compared to our 2016 analyst day, our long-term outlook is being driven by stronger state-regulated earnings profile that is backed by higher invested capital growth in our state-regulated electric utilities and a continue strong performance from our gas LDC.

Invested capital in our state-regulated utilities is projecting to grow at an annual rate of approximately 6%. This is driven by a $22 billion five year investment plan for our electric utilities, which excludes Vogtle units 3 and 4 and supports a 4% electric invested capital growth. Additionally, the state-regulated LDCs within Southern Company Gas are projected to invest $6 billion over the next five years with an invested capital growth rate of approximately 9%.

As we discussed in our last earnings call, our future equity needs have continued to evolve over the past year. Over the next five years, we forecast an average annual equity need of approximately $1.4 billion. Approximately 80% of this equity is expected to be invested directly into our state-regulated electric and gas utilities to support increased credit-supported equity ratios and to fund increased capital investments such as Vogtle units 3 and 4, and our business modernization initiatives.

These are terrific opportunities to improve our overall value proposition by enhancing our risk-return profile of our regulated franchises. We have robust equity plans, which can provide upwards of $1.5 billion per year of new equity, and we have demonstrated an ability to source equity in an investor-friendly manner. For example, we announced in 2017 the sale of Elizabethtown Gas, our planned sale of 33% of Southern Power's solar portfolio, and the use of third-party tax equity on new Southern Power projects.

As we look to fund our current equity need forecast, we plan to be equally thoughtful and investor focused. Our 4% to 6% growth rate assumes continued constructive regulatory treatment across our utilities including tax reform mitigation plans and consolidated FFO-to-debt of 16% to 16.5% excluding the impact of Vogtle 3 and 4 during construction. Financial integrity and strong credit ratings provide significant benefits to customers and have always been a priority for us. That emphasis remains unchanged. The top end of our earnings-per-share growth rate assumes incremental investment opportunities in our state-regulated utilities combined with aggressive management of O&M inflation, optimized equity funding, and better than expected growth from our unregulated businesses including Southern Power.

Now let me touch briefly on our dividend. Southern Company has an outstanding 70-year track record of dividends and dividend growth. Over this period, we've paid 280 consecutive, quarterly dividends that have been the same or higher than the previous quarter. We are proud of this track record and continue to make thoughtful, sustainable, dividend growth recommendations to our board. We fully believe the financial outlook we have presented with it's improved state-regulated profile continues to support our objectives of growing the dividend at $0.08 per year.

I will now turn the call back over to Tom for his closing remarks.

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Art. As we look forward, we believe Southern Company is solidly positioned to deliver on its value proposition as our customer and community focused business model continues to serve us well across our portfolio of companies. We have a transparent, well-balanced path forward to 4% to 6% EPS growth, which should also support our dividend objectives. As we optimize the risk-return equation of our business, our strategy is to preserve credit quality post-tax reform and are intended to provide a solid foundation for value creation for both customers and investors alike.

Thanks, once again, for joining us this afternoon. We'll now move to question and answer portion of the call. Operator, we are now ready to take questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to register a question, please press the 1 followed by the 4 on your telephone. You will hear a 3-tone prompt to acknowledge your request. If your question has been answered and you would like to withdraw your registration, please press the 1 followed by the 3. One moment, please, for the first question.

Our first question comes from the line of Shar Pourreza with Guggenheim Partners. Please proceed.

Shar Pourreza -- Guggenheim Partners -- Analyst

Just two quick ones. First on the $1.4 billion in equity per year that was disclosed today, how much should we think about being allocated to sort of increasing the layers at the various utilities? Or another way to ask is do you sort of have an allocation in mind between the various dates for our modeling purposes?

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, about half.

Shar Pourreza -- Guggenheim Partners -- Analyst

Okay, about half. Okay. Okay, that's helpful. And then just lastly on the tax reform assumptions that's in your base assumption, what you're assuming as far as the plan to credit back to rate pairs and is there any potential to spread out further in time redeploying to sort of near-term capital opportunities in order to get you that incremental investment opportunities to get you to the top-end sort of? How are you thinking about this?

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, you know what's interesting about the incremental capital opportunities is that we looked at the profile of our CapEx over time. I think you probably heard this before, but we tend to be conservative in our projections. And one of the things that we have seen is that we budget really well for this year and pretty well for the next year end the year after. But starting in years four and five because they can't see some of the CapEx opportunities, we tend to budget less and less. And so it's very common for us to have kind of a downward sloping CapEx projection.

When we looked in history, in fact, we tend to fill those things in. So, in effect, what we have thought about is essentially level-izing as a concept a CapEx appetite at the state companies. And that kind of incremental opportunity gets you more to the top of the range. Of course, we will manage O&M so that there are no price increases to customers as a result of that activity. And I think we've got good capacity to do that.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Jonathan Arnold with Deutsche Bank. Please, proceed.

Jonathan Philip Arnold -- Deutsche Bank Securities, Inc. -- Analyst

Good afternoon, guys. I'm just curious on the dividend and sticking with the $0.08 when you have such a kind of significant incremental equity need, how did you sort of weigh that up here? Were you targeting a percentage growth because I know you've been at this $0.08 level for a while now? How should we think about where you want to be on payout eventually?

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. One of the things we're looking at is dividend policy is one of the ultimate signaling theories in finance, right. And when we look at our profile kind of over the next five years, it's clear that while our payout ratio may be in the 80% range for a period of time, once Vogtle clears to in-service, there is a sharp drop in our payout ratio. When we look at the viability of our ability to deliver on the growth objectives that we've outlined here, we think it's very advisable to stay the course on the dividends-regular, predictable, sustainable-and live with a period of time kind of an 80% payout ratio, maybe a little north of that because we believe once we emerge from the construction of Vogtle we'll be back down in the 70s in a pretty healthy way. It's better to stay the course than it is to try to vary over a temporary period.

Jonathan Philip Arnold -- Deutsche Bank Securities, Inc. -- Analyst

Thank you for that, Tom. And then just on slide 25 where you look at the gross with and without Vogtle, I just want to be clear that the red 4% to 6% is starting off that midpoint of 2018.

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

Yes.

Jonathan Philip Arnold -- Deutsche Bank Securities, Inc. -- Analyst

And effectively the gray lines are showing us where you would fall within that giving the earnings of Vogtle in any, particularly year.

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, you got it right, Jonathan. The starting point is 2018, and the grey lines do represent the nonlinear benefit of Vogtle over that next four-year timeframe or five years, yeah, four years beyond '18.

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

And I think it was important for us to point out kind of that fact, Jonathan. When you look at what Vogtle represents to our total earnings picture, it is only 6% of our projected EPS during this next four to five years. 94% of our earnings are gonna still deliver 4% to 6%. So, we would want to have that reflected in things like our PE ratio and stock price performance.

Jonathan Philip Arnold -- Deutsche Bank Securities, Inc. -- Analyst

If I read this correctly, you're pretty much staying at the top end of the grey dotted lines that you would expect to still be within the 4% to 6% off of the '18 guidance in all of those years. And so I'm curious. What's the purpose without Vogtle? It seems a scenario where you just don't have the Vogtle earnings but sort of everything else is fine just seems to be hard for me to imagine.

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

I think we're just trying to point out the strength of the underlying business, excluding the earnings associated with Vogtle over the next few years.

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Let me say it in another way. 94% of our earnings are coming ex-Vogtle. And those are exceedingly strong and predictable over time. So, all we're laying in is the notion that only 6% is associated with Vogtle during this construction period. Of course, once it goes in service, it goes back to the earnings rate at Georgia Power.

Jonathan Philip Arnold -- Deutsche Bank Securities, Inc. -- Analyst

Do you have an update on the latest with the Chinese AP1000 and when that might start up? I'll leave it there.

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, sure. Westinghouse continues to say they're ready to load fuel. What we believe the delay in Sanmen and Haiyang is an additional regulatory review of the reactor coolant pump and the squid valves. Now we believe-Westinghouse believes-there's no issue there. This appears to be a technical, regulatory oversight delay. So, we don't know of any problem, and once in the regulator in China agrees to go forward, they'll load fuel. We see no impediments.

Jonathan Philip Arnold -- Deutsche Bank Securities, Inc. -- Analyst

From what you've just described, if there was an issue, is that something that could be changed in the state you're at, or is that something that would be sort of so endemic to the design that it would be hard to change?

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Well, recall some years ago there were some issues about the reactor coolant pump, and there were changes made to the RCP. So, that was done way back when. I think everything conforms with our understanding of the engineering and ultimate operational performance. We think there's no issue. It's hard to speculate, if there were a change required, what that would mean to cost and schedule. I just wouldn't want to go there, but the clear understanding we have from Westinghouse, you know that we've had people on site for years now, is that there is no problem. This is a regulatory manner that the Chinese are dealing with.

Jonathan Philip Arnold -- Deutsche Bank Securities, Inc. -- Analyst

So you still have people at that site kind of reporting back to you?

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, we do.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Greg Gordon with Evercore ISI. Please, proceed.

Greg Gordon -- Evercore ISI -- Analyst

So when I'm looking at the guidance on FFO-to-debt, presumably the difference between the 15% to 15.5% including Vogtle and the 16% to 16.5% excluding Vogtle just really relates to the earnings stream that you talk about on slide 24 where the quip above the $4.4 billion won't flip into cash flow until the plant's complete?

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

That's it. And we've run this by the rating agencies, and they think that this approach is sensible.

Greg Gordon -- Evercore ISI -- Analyst

Okay, so assuming the plant comes in when it's supposed to come in, goes in the rates, that closes the gap between those two numbers?

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, it does.

Greg Gordon -- Evercore ISI -- Analyst

Great. In terms of the regulatory approaches you're making with the different states-slide 13-you're taking the equity that you're raising, and you're putting it into the following uses: higher regulated equity ratios, reduce parent debt, Vogtle CapEx essentially. Can you take us-without burning up a ton of time-just through where you've already got sort of a plan in place? Like in Florida, for instance, I think you've already got a deal on how you're going to use tax, but what should we look for in terms of milestones and timing for understanding the outcomes on tax in Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama?

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, Greg, this is Art. You're right. Gulf Power has filed a plan or stipulated agreement with a couple of important interveners. I think the Office of Public Counsel and the industrial group there have signed onto the deal where there is an immediate, I believe, refund to customers of a lot of the unprotected, deferred taxes. And it also provides for an increase in the equity ratios from 52.5% to 53.5%. And there are also some additional rate reductions that go into place for both their environmental rates and their base rates as well. So, it's a comprehensive settlement, but it is a great example of what we're looking for in each of our jurisdictions. That will be different for every jurisdiction we talk about.

Georgia, you mentioned, asked for some kind of input or filing last week, and that has been postponed for another couple weeks. So, there's still discussions going on there but nothing to point to. Mississippi has filed an amended PEP filing there as well, and they have basically requested an increase in the equity ratio and provided for some mitigation of the rate increase that was initially filed there that was about a 4% increase has now dropped to 2.5%. So, that's another good example of what we are asking the regulator to do.

It varies by jurisdictions. In the gas business, we have a number of ongoing rate requests that will include impacts of tax reform. I believe in Illinois they're going to adjust tax reform based on the January order that they got out of the rate request they filed last year. So, it just varies by jurisdiction. Some we may see this year. Some we may see next year. So, just stay tuned.

Greg Gordon -- Evercore ISI -- Analyst

I'm sorry. Did you mention Alabama, how you might go about this conversation in Alabama?

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

There have been discussions ongoing but nothing concrete to share at this point.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Paul Fremont with Mizuho. Please, proceed.

Paul Fremont -- Mizuho Securities USA, Inc. -- Analyst

Sort of a housekeeping question, I guess when we do the numbers, it sort of looks like Southern Power came in a lot stronger than you had initially been guiding to. I think you were looking sort of in the $0.40 range for them and for SONAD, and it looks like it came in sort of north of $1. And it looks like the regulated pieces came in a little bit weaker. Are we reading that right, or are we missing some adjustments?

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

Are you talking for the quarter, Paul, or are you talking for the year?

Paul Fremont -- Mizuho Securities USA, Inc. -- Analyst

For the year.

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, well, there are a lot of moving parts with Southern Power. They had a lot of new contracts, seven new solar and four new wind contracts, where you got most of a full year's worth of benefit there year-over-year. You had a lot of increase in depreciation there, but I guess one aspect that was not expected last year-and I'm assuming we're talking on an X-item basis here-that was some state solar investment tax credits that we discovered we qualified for that accounted for roughly a $0.04 pickup at Southern Power. So, that in my mind is the only thing that was really boosting their numbers up this year. But year-over-year, I think the numbers were fairly close in terms of net income.

Paul Fremont -- Mizuho Securities USA, Inc. -- Analyst

Okay, so maybe we just need to take it offline to see if we're missing some other adjustments.

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

Paul, on page 11 of the release, those are not X items. Those are as-reported items.

Paul Fremont -- Mizuho Securities USA, Inc. -- Analyst

We tried to just apply the adjustments that were broken out at the bottom of the page.

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

We can get back to you and get it right.

Paul Fremont -- Mizuho Securities USA, Inc. -- Analyst

And then, I guess, with respect to infusing equity into the regulated operations, would that happen after you get some form of decision out of the regulators? Or should we start infusing equity even in advance of getting a regulatory response?

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

No, we will only invest equity when we have the authority to do so and earn on it appropriately.

Paul Fremont -- Mizuho Securities USA, Inc. -- Analyst

Okay, and then is there sort of a north limit on what you would ask for in terms of an equity ratio?

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

You mean a ceiling?

Paul Fremont -- Mizuho Securities USA, Inc. -- Analyst

Yes.

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

What we're solving for is to get back to an FFO-to-debt percent. That's kind of the way we're doing it. And the beauty of this tax reform is if you solve to an equity ratio, if that's the only thing you're doing, I said this on TV this morning, just broad numbers, I think we can preserve our financial integrity and still deliver in the range of 5% to 7% rate reductions, but that's all you do. There could be a host of other things that could impact the regulatory treatment, but this is a win-win. There's plenty of room for us to preserve our financial integrity and deliver rate reduction.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Julien Dumoulin-Smith with Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Please, proceed.

Julien Dumoulin-Smith -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

On Southern Power, let me just pick up where he left off. Curious on what kind of growth you're seeing out of that business. I know you've talked about tax equity, etcetera, but through the forecast period, how much of that is contributing given the updated forecast? And then maybe just a second on the back of that would be, what's the future of the company given what seems to be a little bit more of a modest growth profile.

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

I'm going to let Art fill in the blanks here. I'll give you the top line and that is certainly we have seen a bit of a slowdown in the market. For 2018, we expect to earn somewhere in the $325 million range, but you're right. When you look at our overall plan, we are generally deemphasizing the contribution of Southern Power to our growth rate. You must remember, though, one of the things that we put in place in the past is a joint development agreement, largely for wind with RES. So, we're still pursuing all of that discretionary growth, and we'll see how that turns out.

With respect to the equity required for those growth opportunities, I think the kind of incremental equity will be minimal as they'll likely be funded with things like third-party tax equity and internally sourced funds. When you think about that, you should think about that contribution at Southern Power as one of the variables that could drive us upwards in the 4% to 6% range. Art, would you have anything to add there?

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

Now, Julien, you are asking about where are we gonna go, and if you look at our '18 expectations out of Southern Power, not a lot of that income is expected to be driven by new projects. Most of our joint development agreements, the opportunities there would probably begin delivering income in 2019. As we look year-over-year, though, we'll certainly keep about the same level of production tax credits. I guess we just signed an agreement on a new, small solar deal.

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

20 megawatts, yeah.

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, and then we've got our ongoing energy margins and our amortizations of ITC, which I think year over year will be pretty close to the same. But we also are probably going to book in the first quarter some restructuring gains that will primarily be benefiting or optimizing our state apportionment rates across all the states that we have. And that will be a pick up of, oh, $0.04 or $0.05 of earnings at Southern Power. So, when you look at year-over-year, we're gonna be pretty close to the same level of net income as we were in 2017.

Julien Dumoulin-Smith -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

What about the state of the overall business if it isn't contributing meaningful amounts of growth? Obviously, that's a variable to be solved for, but how do you think about it in that context?

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Well, we think that the state-regulated businesses, especially the way we've recast it, represent the lion's share of our growth opportunity. And, in fact, when you think about kind of the equity needs-however we solve them-whether it's shares over programs or through investor-friendlier kind of means, it represents, I think, 80% of the shares are gonna be tied up in the state-regulated businesses. That provides the lion share of growth going forward.

Julien Dumoulin-Smith -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Right. In fact, actually, if you were to break it down, how much of the 4% even at the bottom end is driven by the state programs versus, call it, energy infrastructure? Versus gas.

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, that one's hard to break down. We've got so many moving parts in here.

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

We need to get back to you on that, but I'll tell you this. We have thought about this one. The net income profile of Southern Power isn't gonna grow a whole lot over the future, but the earnings per share profile will still deliver. In other words, because we're using tax-advantaged equity while R will grow modestly, E won't grow hardly at all. And so we'll still deliver pretty good EPS, but the thrust is right. And we'll get you the right percent and everything else between the two. The real lion's share of our EPS growth right now is in the state-regulated businesses.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Paul Ridzon with KeyBanc. Please, proceed.

Paul T. Ridzon -- KeyBanc Capital Markets, Inc. -- Analyst

Quick question. You had some monetization to raise equity. What's a reasonable share count to use for '18?

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Hold on a second, Art?

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

Let's see, Paul. Our guidance range really assumes a range of possible outcomes. We said we have $1.4 billion need. We certainly got a lot of tool at our disposal. The timing of that will be spread over the year, but as we've also said, we've got opportunities to do it in a shareholder friendly way, which might mitigate that as well. So, it's a hard question to answer, and the range that we've given you is really the outcome of a number of different assumptions around all of the moving parts.

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

So I guess one way to say it, Art, is kind of at its most conservative, we can fully support this 4% to 6% growth rate and our credit metrics by using our internal plans and any at-the-market kind of effort. To the extent, we do quote-unquote investor friendly means other than those shares. We could certainly improve within the range.

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah.

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

So, Art's right. It's hard to say. It depends on the success and the opportunity we see elsewhere in the market on some of these other ideas.

Paul T. Ridzon -- KeyBanc Capital Markets, Inc. -- Analyst

Okay, and then on your slide deck, slide 16, you've got parent contributing a -$0.47. What was that in '17?

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

We'll have somebody looking for it. Somebody will look for it. I just don't have that at my fingertips.

Paul T. Ridzon -- KeyBanc Capital Markets, Inc. -- Analyst

And then just back to a previous question, you said look for net income at Southern Power to be essentially flat in '18 versus '17?

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, $3.25 billion would be my best guess. Of course, it varies all over the place.

Paul T. Ridzon -- KeyBanc Capital Markets, Inc. -- Analyst

Is Southern Power not gonna see a pickup from tax reform?

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, they will be a beneficiary of that and to the tune of $15 to $20 million. But recall also that we're in the process of monetizing the 33% of the solar portfolio, which would coincidentally kind of offset the benefit from the tax gain.

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

So the loss of that income.

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

In 2018. That's right.

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

So the benefit of tax reform equals the loss of income from the sale of solar? So the net effect is you keep income constant and you raise cash and offset shares.

Paul T. Ridzon -- KeyBanc Capital Markets, Inc. -- Analyst

Got it. I'm good, and if you just find that number, you can just inject later on. Thank you.

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

Hold on. $0.31.

Paul T. Ridzon -- KeyBanc Capital Markets, Inc. -- Analyst

Now, what's the big driver there? I know that, obviously, the tax shield is a piece of that.

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

That's the biggest thing.

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

The debt is increased. It's a full year effect of a lot of the parent debt, right?

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Paul Patterson with Glenrock Associates. Please, proceed.

Paul Patterson -- Glenrock Associates LLC -- Analyst

On slide 6, I'm sorry if I missed this, but the gas supplier write-off of $0.10 for 2018, what's causing that? Could you just elaborate a little bit more on that? Is that sort of one time in nature?

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

That was the amount of shares associated with replacing the hole, the credit quality hole, from the write-off of the gas and fire last year in '17. That's the ongoing carry and also the income loss associated with that.

Paul Patterson -- Glenrock Associates LLC -- Analyst

I got you. So, it's the income loss associated with no longer having the gas or fire regulatorily speaking and the impact of issuing?

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Not having an earning asset there. And I'm proud to say these guys do more of the show than I do, but even the shows I was at I can remember drawing people a line that showed the 5% growth, which is the $0.15. And then the write-off and then the $1.7 billion from Toshiba, this is stuff that we've had out there for some time. And, you know, this tax reform, this negative $0.06, we're gonna work really hard to mitigate that. So, I think we're gonna be exactly kinda where we thought we might be based on the talk we gave kind of the balance of 2017.

Paul Patterson -- Glenrock Associates LLC -- Analyst

Okay, and then when we look at slide 9, you mention that there's this business modernization that you're going to be spending on, but O&M is supposed to be reducing or offsetting the revenue impact associated with that. What I was wondering is given the other sort of substantial CapEx that you guys are projecting at the regulated utilities, what we should think about the ongoing rate impact of that? Sort of how do we think about the amount of capital that you're spending-that you're putting into these businesses-and your ability to do the business modernization stuff that you outlined in slide 9 with the other non-business mod, non-Vogtle CapEx if you follow me?

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, you bet. If you want to look at a company that's done just a terrific job of this, I would go right to Georgia Power. They did a variety of things where they invested in technology and really took money out of the business not only O&M but some other investments like a lot of the local town. But in that process we've actually increased the reach to those customers I want to say by a factor of four. So, it's interesting. Our customer base is getting used to more and more the use of technology in terms of managing our relationship with them. We still have an important personal touch in the communities that we're privileged to serve, but I think Georgia Power has been a great example of taking O&M down and improving their CapEx potential.

And let me say this just another way. If I reverse that, the technology investment that is a modernization effort in many ways permit the ability to take )&M out. And if you think about Georgia Power during this time, they were named the most trusted electric utility in America. So, we were all worried about what does all this mean to our relationship with customers, and it remains really strong.

One other concept. You guys know that I help lead for all the electric industry in America, whether it's IOUs, co-ops, and muni's, but the whole notion of providing appropriate levels of national security for this most critical part of our infrastructure is something that I'm very focused on. And I think this new word that starts to creep into-whether it's an infrastructure bill in Congress or in our dialogues around modernization-goes not to reliability or potentially even service but to the notion of resilience. That's gonna become increasingly important as we think about protecting this most valuable asset.

Paul Patterson -- Glenrock Associates LLC -- Analyst

Okay, but I guess what I'm wondering is how should we think about the rate increases that are associated with your CapEx and EPS growth? Do you follow what I'm saying? Just generally speaking, I'm not asking for huge granularity here, but just sort of generally speaking, how much do you think you can offset?

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Something below inflation.

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. That's what I would say and even our profile on non-fill O&M will be to eliminate the inflation in the numbers and, again, to drive it below zero if we can to help fund these opportunities for mod capital.

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

And, frankly, I think we have the capacity to do that, but if you wanted a number to use, it would be below an inflation rate.

Paul Patterson -- Glenrock Associates LLC -- Analyst

Okay, and then just finally on the sales growth, I noticed in the sort of appendix of the slides that you said flat to extremely modest, I think. Maybe I'm missing the term, but just reiterate the sales growth that you guys are looking at in your service territory.

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

I mean, it's flat.

Paul Patterson -- Glenrock Associates LLC -- Analyst

It's flat.

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, if you get specific by class, it's probably a bit of growth in the industrial class and a bit slightly negative on the residential and commercial.

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

The southeast still is good though. You think about it. We've had better than US experience on population growth for both our gas and electric properties, and job growth is much better than the national average in terms of our electric properties. So, you know what? I mean what we're seeing in terms of flat is really a function, I think, of technology on behalf of customers. One other effect that we think may occur during this year is as other companies-this is actually good for the economy-but as other companies now can expense their CapEx, we may see a lot more facility improvements, store restructurings, manufacturing, and that may have the effect of increasing the rate of investment of energy efficiency. That's why we believe this year it's flat.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Michael Lapides with Goldman Sachs. Please, proceed.

Michael Lapides -- Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC -- Analyst

Two focus areas. First, when I look at slide 26, which has your CapEx by subsidiary on the regulated and debt Southern Power and if I compare it to the same slide in last year's guidance, so the fourth quarter 2016 five-year outlook, two things stand out. One is that the five-year capital plan for Alabama Power is up materially $1.5 billion, and the other is that the five-year gas LDC spend is actually down from $6.7 to $6.1 billion, so $500 or $600 million. Can you just talk about what's happening on the capital side and what that money is being spent on in those two businesses?

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, the gas would be the sale of Elizabethtown is assumed. So, you've lost Elizabethtown CapEx. That's what that is.

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

And then Alabama's increase is reflective of modernization capital that was not in last year's number.

Michael Lapides -- Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC -- Analyst

Got it. Okay, so lots of incremental T&D in Alabama and when you file for rate recovery under the annual rate recovery methodologies, you'll benefit and customers will benefit by having the rate reduction that's caused by tax reform, and that gets partially offset by the incremental capital.

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

That's right.

Michael Lapides -- Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC -- Analyst

My other question is it sounded like you're gonna do the $1.4 billion or so of equity every year over the five years, but I'm just curious. When I look at this slide 26, CapEx comes down meaningfully after year, really, two, meaning after 2019. Meaning it's down almost $2 billion in '20 over '18 and almost $3 billion by '22, shouldn't you be in a position if that's really what your capital budget is in the out years that you're basically generating a lot of cash?

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, well, there's a couple of sects in there. Recall we talked about a variety of means to raise the equity. And what you're referring to is essentially a plan that still achieves 4% to 6% growth but which uses kind of sales of shares through our clients. To the extent we could do, say, more investor-friendly means of raising cash and equity, that certainly would be lumpier and maybe potentially more frontend loaded and may reduce, frankly, the number of shares required. We'll just see.

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

And I think, Michael, as you look at Southern Power on that line, it basically reflects only the committed capital and maintenance capital to support existing assets or new projects that we committed to. It would be incremental needs or beyond that, and we've kind of set that out in a separate Southern Power slide. I believe it's in the appendix.

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

And the other thing that's gonna impact timing for sure will be how the regulatory processes evolve at each of the companies. As I said earlier on this call, we're not gonna invest equity until we have a regulatory construct that supports earning on it. So, that also will have an influence as to how we send out the capital.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Praful Mehta with Citigroup. Please, proceed.

Praful Mehta -- Citigroup Global Markets, Inc. -- Analyst

My question, actually, was on the regulatory construct you just talked about. Can you be a little bit more specific in terms of some of the variables that are at play? For example, there's a $7.3 billion deferred tax liability. I wanted to understand. Is that protected, unprotected, or how much is protected, unprotected? And what kind of timeframe are you working toward in terms of refund, or are you offsetting against regulatory asset? Some color or context around that cash flow profile would be helpful.

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, Praful, this is Art. Listen. I don't want to go state by state because we're gonna be getting ahead of the regulatory process a bit. It will vary by state. Some states have amounts of, say, storm damage cost that is a reg asset on their books. That might be something they avail themselves of to provide a temporary pickup in cash for recovery of that.

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

And then deal with equity ratios later.

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

And then deal with equity ratios later. So, there are all kinds of pieces, and if you take out all of these assets, right? That's the total of the protected and unprotected deferred asset would be, what, $7, $8 billion?

 Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

$7 billion.

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

And about $5.7 billion of that is protected, and the remainder would be unprotected. That's at a Southern level. So, it's gonna vary by operating company, and I believe in the K you can find a breakdown by each of the companies.

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

And the other thing that would probably be helpful in thinking about this, what we're solving for is this kind of preserving financial integrity. So, that means getting back to appropriate FFO-to-debt levels. Without mitigations, tax reform would translate to approximately 2% to 3% impact at the states and maybe 3% to 4% at the Southern Company level. So, that's kinda what we're solving for here. That may be helpful.

Praful Mehta -- Citigroup Global Markets, Inc. -- Analyst

I gotcha. No, that is super helpful I appreciate that. And, secondly, just in terms of the Southern Power investment, you talked about the $1.5 billion. You've not kind of shown it in your plan but you've footnoted that there are scenarios on which you could have an incremental $1.5 billion in the out years in terms of Southern Power investment. What would be the variables that would trigger that potential incremental investment?

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Greater than expected penetration on the RES investment, for example.

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

The joint development of green.

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

That's right, the wind deal that we've signed up that joint development for. And there could be a variety of other things that come through the transfer. The whole point, though, is that is purely discretionary, and our plan is that largely we believe that would be funded through internal means or alternative sources of equity, like tax equity, project finance or whatever. The clear message here is this 4% to 6% growth is being driven by investment and performance at our state-regulated entities.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Stephen Byrd with Morgan Stanley. Please, proceed.

Stephen Calder Byrd -- Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC -- Analyst

I think my questions have been addressed. As I understand it just on the impact to FFO and tax reform just given that essentially you're in discussions with a variety of subsidiaries that you're overall take is it's not the right time to try to give more detailed guidance in terms of the exact impact to FFO from tax reform just given how many variables are at play. Am I understanding that right?

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, basically. When it's done, it'll be done, and we'll tell you everything about it. I think we have outlined though the potential effects of tax reform. We've outlined kinda how we believe we're going about it. So, it's some combination of unwinding of regulatory asset or liability or how we expect to restore our credit metric through equity ratios, for example. So, that's kind of the how. The whats will show themselves when we reach agreement, but historically we don't like to get in front of the states as they go through these sensitive discussions.

Operator

We have a follow-up question from the line of Shar Pourreza with Guggenheim Partners. Please, proceed.

Shar Pourreza -- Guggenheim Partners -- Analyst

Hey, this is Eugene actually on for Shar. Well, I think you kind of touched on it already with Steve saying you don't want to get in front of the state approval process. But I guess to the extent and the follow up to Shar's question about the equity going into the regulated utilities, to the extent that you're asking for approval for higher equity ratios, could we assume that once that's approved that you'd be earning on that-the higher equity ratio-like a hypothetical capital structure as opposed to waiting for actual equity to be infused into the utility?

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

Well, I think that's a great question, and it's all gonna revolve around the timing: the timing of the approvals and when the equity is funded or how quickly it's funded. And that may occur over time as well.

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

But I think it would be our intention. You're asking a hypothetical. It would be our intention and it would be simultaneous. In other words, if we got the authority to increase an equity ratio, we would make sure they had the capital that represented that equity in place.

Shar Pourreza -- Guggenheim Partners -- Analyst

Okay, that's fair.

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

And I think that goes back to somebody's earlier question that said, you're looking at a $1.4 billion per year, and we said that might be lumpy based on regulatory outcomes. That would be a reason why.

Shar Pourreza -- Guggenheim Partners -- Analyst

Okay, got it. Understood.

Operator

At this time there are no further questions. Sir, are there any closing remarks?

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Well, it's been an exciting time in the industry. I think everybody's been wrestling with what does tax reform mean, and it's quite a process. The net of it is we think there's plenty of economics there to have a win-win agreement with all of our jurisdictions. That is that we can preserve our financial integrity and reduce rates to customers, and we think that's good not only for our customers, uh, for the company but also for the growing economy. I think it's been a real shot in the arm to us all.

The other thing I hope you take form this call is that as we've evaluated these opportunities, there's been a real redistribution of growth, away from Southern Power. We're still committed to Southern Power. We still think there's opportunity, and that provides upside to our forecast. But the real redistribution of growth and our focus really goes now to the regulated utilities that we have in some of the best jurisdictions in America. We think this a plan that that will be very promising, and we will execute it as well as we can. And we'll update you as things develop. Thank you very much for being with us on this call. We appreciate your interest in Southern Company. See you soon.

...

Operator

Thank you, sir. Ladies and gentlemen, this does conclude the Southern Company Fourth quarter 2017 Earnings call. You may now disconnect. Have a great day, everyone.

Duration: 67 minutes

Call participants:

Aaron Abramovitz -- Director of Investor Relations

Thomas A. Fanning -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Arthur P. Beattie -- Chief Financial Officer

Shar Pourreza -- Guggenheim Partners -- Analyst

Jonathan Philip Arnold -- Deutsche Bank Securities, Inc. -- Analyst

Greg Gordon -- Evercore ISI -- Analyst

Paul Fremont -- Mizuho Securities USA, Inc. -- Analyst

Julien Dumoulin-Smith -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Paul T. Ridzon -- KeyBanc Capital Markets, Inc. -- Analyst

Paul Patterson -- Glenrock Associates LLC -- Analyst

Michael Lapides -- Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC -- Analyst

Praful Mehta -- Citigroup Global Markets, Inc. -- Analyst

Stephen Calder Byrd -- Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC -- Analyst

More SO analysis

This article is a transcript of this conference call produced for The Motley Fool. While we strive for our Foolish Best, there may be errors, omissions, or inaccuracies in this transcript. As with all our articles, The Motley Fool does not assume any responsibility for your use of this content, and we strongly encourage you to do your own research, including listening to the call yourself and reading the company's SEC filings. Please see our Terms and Conditions for additional details, including our Obligatory Capitalized Disclaimers of Liability.

10 stocks we like better than Southern Company
When investing geniuses David and Tom Gardner have a stock tip, it can pay to listen. After all, the newsletter they have run for over a decade, Motley Fool Stock Advisor, has tripled the market.*

David and Tom just revealed what they believe are the 10 best stocks for investors to buy right now... and Southern Company wasn't one of them! That's right -- they think these 10 stocks are even better buys.

Click here to learn about these picks!

*Stock Advisor returns as of February 5, 2018

The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.