Entergy Corp  (

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NYSE:ETR)
Q3 2018 Earnings Conference Call
Oct. 31, 2018, 11:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Good day ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the third quarter 2018 earnings release and teleconference call. (Operator Instructions) As a reminder, this conference call is being recorded. I would now like to introduce your host for today's conference Mr. David Borde, Vice President of Investor Relations.

Mr. Borde, you may begin.

David Borde -- Vice President of Investor Relations

Thank you. Good morning and thank you for joining us. We will begin today with comments from Entergy's Chairman and CEO, Leo Denault; and then Drew Marsh, our CFO, will review results.

In an effort to accommodate everyone who has questions, we request that each person ask no more than one question and one follow-up. With EEI days away, today's call is scheduled for 45 minutes.

In today's call management will make certain forward-looking statements. Actual results could differ materially from these forward-looking statements due to a number of factors which are set forth in our earnings release, our slide presentation and our SEC filings. Entergy does not assume any obligation to update these forward-looking statements. Management will also discuss non-GAAP financial information. Reconciliations to the applicable GAAP measures are included in today's press release and slide presentation both of which can be found on the Investor Relations section of our website.

And now I will turn the call over to Leo.

Leo Denault -- Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, David, and good morning everyone. We now have three quarters behind us and we continue to consistently execute on the initiatives that keep us on track to achieve our goals, both near term and longer-term. We've completed most of the 2018 key deliverables we outlined at the beginning of the year and we've added a few more since then. We are pleased to report strong third quarter results with Utility Parent & Other adjusted EPS of $2.27 and consolidated operational earnings per share of $3.77. Drew will cover the numbers in more detail but the bottom line is that we're raising our consolidated operational guidance range. For our UP&O adjusted view we are affirming our 2018 guidance and our longer term outlooks through 2021.

With the EEI Financial Conference less than two weeks away, we are keeping today's call focused on the quarter. Before I go into our accomplishments, I'd to address a couple of news items that while not materially impacting financial results warrant being addressed.

First on the Mississippi Attorney General Complaint. This is the continuation of litigation that was filed 10 years ago. The matter was set to go to trial in early November. But as you may have heard earlier this week the trial was continued to sometime next year. The precise date has not been set. We filed two separate motions for summary judgment and last June the State of Mississippi passed legislation which clarifies that a claim of this nature should first proceed in front of the NPSC before being filed in court. This matter has been disclosed and thoroughly discussed in our 10-K and 10-Q filings to which I would point you. The important thing for you to take away is that our generation practices are scrutinized, reviewed or audited in multiple jurisdictions on a regular and continuous basis and have been for decades. Claims similar to those brought by the Attorney General were alleged in Louisiana, New Orleans, and Texas. The Louisiana Commission and City Council both rejected those claims on their merits and the case was dismissed in Texas for lack of jurisdiction. We feel very comfortable about our position in the litigation and for that reason do not believe the lawsuit poses a material risk to earnings.

Second, we received the Share Gartner (ph) report on the grassroots advocacy practices in New Orleans. We recognize and appreciate the effort undertaking by the City Council to thoroughly review this matter. Nevertheless we take exception to certain characterizations and key omissions in the report like The Hawthorn Group's written admission that they took these actions without our knowledge. There are no facts that support the conclusion that Entergy employees knew about the hiring of Crowds on Demand for their payments to individuals to show support for the New Orleans Power Station. However, we believe that better oversight and asking the right questions could have either prevented the actions of Hawthorn and Crowds on Demand or discovered them and allowed us to stop them. We continue our effort to regain the trust and confidence of the citizens of New Orleans and the counsel.

I'll now turn back to the quarter. With good clarity on our strategy, our accomplishments included a major milestone in our transition to a pure-play utility. The NRC has approved the license transfer of Vermont Yankee to NorthStar. This was a necessary condition in our agreement to sell Vermont Yankee along with its decommissioning assets and liability. The decision is also an important milestone for the nuclear decommissioning industry and we are pleased with this outcome and encouraged by the NRC's acceptance of this transaction model. The sale of nuclear plants post shutdown will benefit stakeholders and our industry by accelerating the decommissioning time line, drawing on industry-leading decommissioning and site remediation expertise and experience and laying the foundation for potential future business development opportunities in the regions. We are waiting a decision from the Vermont Public Utility Commission which we requested by November 30. We continue to target completion of the transaction by year-end.

We're also making progress on our agreement to sell Pilgrim. In September, we attended the NRC's license transfer application pre-submittal meeting with Holtec. We discussed Pilgrim's status and the proposed transaction as well as Holtec's decommissioning strategy and financial and technical qualifications. We plan to submit our filing to the NRC before the end of the year.

We also received renewed operating licenses for Indian Point units 2 and 3 which are scheduled to shut down in 2020 and 2021 respectively. Palisades will close a year later finalizing the orderly wind down of EWC operations. Our progress at EWC significantly advances our strategy to transition to a pure-play utility.

We've also continued to make good progress toward modernizing the utilities generation portfolio. In August Entergy Mississippi agreed to acquire the Choctaw Generating Station. The plant is a clean and modern 810 megawatt combined cycle natural gas turbine. We expect to close the transaction by the end of 2019 following receipt of regulatory approvals. At Analyst Day we noted that our five-year capital plan assumed a new-build CCGT to meet Entergy Mississippi's capacity requirements. Choctaw will now meet that need.

Purchasing the Choctaw facility is more economic than a new-build and frees up capital resources or other investments that will also benefit our customers. This is a good example of opportunities we continue to seek to meet our customers' needs at the most economic price point. We'll provide a preliminary update on our three-year capital plan at the EEI Conference.

We're also making progress on our new-build generation projects. Our three CCGTs remain on budget and on schedule. We are waiting for an air permit from the state for the New Orleans Power Station before we can further proceed. We expect this to result in a four to five-month delay in the plant's commercial operation date but we still anticipate completing the project on budget. We've also made significant progress on key transmission plants. We completed the Lake Charles project, our largest transmission undertaking to date. It included construction of two new substations, expansion of two others and added approximately 25 miles of high-voltage transmission lines. The project is providing improved reliability and additional load serving capability in an area that is experiencing significant industrial growth.

Also in the quarter Entergy Louisiana announced that it had signed a long-term agreement to serve Shintech's expanding manufacturing complex in Iberville Parish. Through the project Shintech will create 120 new direct jobs. Louisiana Economic Development estimates an additional 590 new indirect jobs will result for a total more than 700 new jobs. The expansion is also projected to create up to 3,000 construction jobs at its peak and we expect it to come online in early 2021.

We've also been busy with rate proceedings in many of our jurisdictions. In New Orleans we refiled our rate case. The changes from the original filing related primarily to rate design and revenue requirement requested in our refiling is nearly identical to what we requested in the original filing. With next year's projected fuel savings and energy efficiency, the net rate change to our customers in 2019 is expected to be a $20 million decrease.

In Texas we filed an unopposed settlement agreement in our rate -- our base rate case proceeding. The settlement is a step in the right direction. It provides certainty and will improve earnings and return and resolve tax reform issues in that jurisdiction. We expect the commission to take it up at an upcoming open meeting.

Nevertheless the sentiment is less than we requested and we will continue to work collaboratively with the commission, the legislature and other stakeholders to explore ways to improve the regulatory construct in Texas. Specifically, we'll ask the commission to review its rules and associated procedures to include appropriate post test year adjustments. Regulatory mechanisms that better align the timing of costs and investments with their recovery are beneficial for credit ratings, access to capital at a lower cost to customers and infrastructure investments that drive economic development and job creation. Yesterday parties filed a partial settlement agreement in the Arkansas FRP proceeding resolving all outstanding revenue requirements issues for 2019. The agreement recommends a rate adjustment of approximately $67 million consistent with the EEI's initial filing. The rate adjustment is based upon a revenue requirement of approximately $163 million capped at 4% of total filing year revenue. We still expect the decision from the commission by year-end. This continued progress on regulatory proceedings improves clarity and solidifies our financial commitments.

At Entergy safety is a core value and we recently achieved an important milestone. Our transmission group of nearly 1,000 employees achieved 397 days of injury-free performance. This milestone demonstrates that 0 injuries is achievable on a sustained basis. We are proud of this accomplishment. We're thankful to our employees for the focus, commitment and care they've demonstrated in achieving this outstanding performance.

Before I turn the call over to Drew, I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge Wayne Leonard who passed away in September. Wayne was the friend and a mentor to many and he was also a true leader. He led our employees and our communities through transformational events like Hurricane Katrina. He took a leadership role and key industry issues including sustainability and corporate responsibility. He advocated for low-income customers who couldn't speak for themselves and demanded that we do a better job serving the poor. He was a visionary on issues of climate change in the environment. Although he retired more than five years ago, Wayne's legacy remains deeply woven into the fabric of our Company.

We're set out to drive sustainable long-term growth by delivering strong financial results to our owners, investing on our employees to create a workforce for the future and proactively establishing policies to be an environmentally and socially responsible growth engine for our communities while working to break the cycle of poverty experienced by many of the customers we serve. We never wanted individuals that have to choose between paying for electricity or necessities like groceries or medications. For us that starts with controlling electric rates. S&P Global Market Intelligence studies show that in 2016 and 2017 Entergy provided power to retail customers at the lowest average price at the major investor owned utilities in the United States. In addition, we advocate for additional and fair funding for our customers from the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. LIHEAP helps customers in dire financial circumstances pay their utility bills. With the help of our senators and congressmen in 2018 an incremental $47 million was directed to aid residents in the states where we serve. And we've recently learned that the U.S. Senate is recommending an additional $50 million for the program in 2019 with customers in our service territory getting their fair share.

Today we operate as one of the cleanest large-scale generating fleets in the United States. Over the last three years our emission rate across our entire fleet has been more than 40% below the national average and the EPA standard for a new highly efficient combined cycle natural gas unit. This year we were named for the 2018 Dow Jones Sustainability North American (ph) Index. We earned top scores in the areas of policy influence, climate strategy, water-related risks and corporate citizenship and philanthropy. Only companies that excel in developing and implementing long-term economic, environmental and social strategies and actions are included on the index. And we're the only U.S. electric utility to be named to the world or North American index or both for 17 straight years. It is no coincidence that this recognition goes back to the time when Wayne's and Entergy's greenhouse emissions commitment may have seemed an unrealistic goal.

Our investors are increasingly aware of the importance of environmental and sustainability responsibilities. Financial results are inexplicably tied to good corporate citizenship. Acting with concern for safety of the environment, employees, communities, customers and owners is what makes Entergy a sound investment. We're proud of our legacy of leadership in these areas. We have made a lot of progress but there is still a lot to do.

To further our goal of improving communities, we've incorporated the UN sustainable development goals into our social responsibility business plan and strategy. We will also continue to work with our local partners such as the United Way to help families achieve the economic stability, jobs for America's graduates to create a skilled, ready and diverse workforce for the communities we serve, share our resources to fund cost of restoration and the power to care to provide bill payment assistance for elderly and disabled customers. I encourage you to learn more about our efforts and track record on ESG issues through our integrated report which we publish annually.

The fundamentals of our business are strong. 2018 has already been another year of significant accomplishments including major milestones to keep us on track to achieve our strategic, operational and financial objectives. Our accomplishments this quarter are in many ways simply a continuation of the path Wayne set out for us many years ago, a path to become a world-class utility that prospers by creating sustainable value for all its stakeholders, the path where our successes is not only measured in delivering shareholder returns but also in leaving behind a better world where doing good is good business.

I'll now turn the call over to Drew who will provide more details on our financial results and also a preview of what we are planning for EEI. We look forward to seeing you at the conference.

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Leo and good morning everyone. As Leo mentioned our accomplishments this quarter directly support our strategic, operational and financial objectives. Our results were strong with consolidated operational earnings of $3.77 per share and Utility, Parent & Other adjusted earnings of $2.27 per share. At the Utility, the fundamentals of our business are healthy. We are seeing the effects of productive investment on behalf of our customers and the lower tax rate. We also had positive effects of weather year-over-year.

At EWC we saw good returns on the nuclear decommissioning trust funds in the third quarter and as we've communicated favorable tax benefits. Overall operational earnings to date are better than we expected. Therefore we are raising our 2018 Entergy operational guidance while our core Utility, Parent & Other business is firmly on track to achieve its 2018 guidance and longer term outlooks.

Breaking down the results starting with Utility, Parent & Other on slide 5, adjusted earnings which normalize weather and taxes were $0.12 higher than the prior year. Setting aside offsetting line items, we saw lower retail sales volume in the unbilled period. This was partially offset by higher than expected weather adjusted bill sales and positive rate actions at Entergy Arkansas and Entergy Texas. Finally non-fuel O&M was higher as planned due largely to fossil spending and contract costs.

Moving to EWC's results on slide 6, operational earnings were $1.42. Excluding this quarter's tax items, the key driver was higher returns on the nuclear decommissioning trust funds. Lower nuclear pricing as well as nuclear sales volume partially offset the increase. This quarter as reported earnings included a $117 million upward revision to Pilgrim's asset retirement obligation from an updated decommissioning study. The revision resulted in an asset impairment which is treated as special item and excluded from operational earnings.

Before leaving EWC, I would like to update our cash expectation. We expect EWC to provide positive net cash to parent from 2019 through 2022. This remains a key focus area as we transition to a pure-play utility. Turning back to the quarter, slide 7 shows operating cash flow totaling $780 million, $113 million lower than a year ago. The decrease was primarily due to the return of $266 million of unprotected excess ADIT to customers, which we expected. At this point all of our customers are seeing the positive effects from tax reform in their bills. Roughly half of this was offset by solid weather as well as increased collections for fuel and purchase power cost recovery at the utility. In addition, lower net revenue at EWC and planned spending on Vermont Yankee decommissioning activities contributed to the decrease.

Now turning to slide 8 and 9, because of our strong results to-date we are updating our consolidated operational guidance range of $6.75 to $7.25. This reflects a midpoint increase of $0.45 and the narrowing of the range. The primary drivers are strong weather to-date and better than planned income tax outcomes. We're also assuming a tax item at the utility which we expect to materialize in the fourth quarter. But to-date this quarter the tax item is essentially offset by mark-to-market returns on the EWC nuclear decommissioning trust.

We're also affirming our Utility, Parent & Other adjusted guidance range which we still expect to come in at around the midpoint. There are a few key drivers that I'd like to highlight. We're seeing stronger-than-expected sales year-to-date. And as a result we now expect positive growth for the year of about 0.5% versus our previous assumption of negative 0.7%. Nevertheless we expect this to be partially offset by our settlement in the Texas rate case which includes a $0.10 refund -- $0.10 per share refund to customers from the lower tax rate retroactive to January of this year. Because Entergy Texas has a historical test year and has been under earning we did not assume this outcome when we set our guidance earlier this year. We expect this refund to affect 2018 results and is reflected in our current midpoint expectations for Utility, Parent & Other adjusted EPS.

And to the extent Entergy Arkansas and Entergy Mississippi continued to perform above our expectations such that future true-ups will result in amounts due back to customers we would accrue those this year. We're also affirming our long-term Utility, Parent & Other outlooks through 2021. You'll see that our outlook is unchanged from Analyst Day just a few months ago.

Switching gears a bit regarding our outlooks. For the past few years, we're focused on two earnings measures Entergy operational EPS and Utility, Parent & Other adjusted EPS. Our Utility, Parent & Other adjusted view has helped us reinforce our focus on transitioning to a pure-play utility and has held us accountable to the core results of the utility business. However, now that we've been successful with our strategy, having two measures may no longer be warranted. Over the next few months we'll be evaluating our earnings measures and disclosures to address feedback we've received from the investment community including the volatility from large tax items and EWC reporting. While at this point we can't treat EWC as discontinued operations from a GAAP perspective, we recognize that the time is right to guide you on a simpler measure that better reflects our current business profile. We plan to provide a further update on the fourth quarter call.

Moving to our credit metrics shown on slide 10. Our FFO to debt percentage is lower at 13.1% and our parent debt to total debt has increased to 24.5%. In the third quarter our customers continued to receive the significant benefits of tax reform, including the $266 million (ph) of unprotected excess ADIT I mentioned earlier. This brings the year-to-date total to $342 million. We expect FFO to debt to move a little lower over the next few quarters as we continue to return an estimated $640 million of remaining unprotected excess ADIT cash to customers. But beginning next quarter, we project an improvement in parent debt to total debt as we complete incremental debt issuances at utility and settle a portion of the equity forward. As I mentioned last quarter we remain committed to our FFO to debt target at or above 15% by 2020 and our parent debt to total debt at or below 25%.

Before we turn to Q&A, I want to reinforce that the fundamentals of our business are strong and we're firmly on track to achieve our 2018 guidance and longer term outlooks. We've executed on the majority of our business objectives for the year including major milestones in the wind down of EWC. At EEI we plan to provide a preview of a few key considerations for 2019. We also plan to provide a preliminary three-year capital plan. We're excited about where we stand as a company and we're looking forward to continuing this conversation at EEI.

And now the Entergy team is available to answer questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Our first question comes from Julien Dumoulin-Smith of Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Your line is now open.

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

Hey, good morning. Congratulations. Can you hear me?

Leo Denault -- Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer

Hi. Good morning, Julien.

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

(multiple speakers) Julien.

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

Excellent. So perhaps first just to kick it off, good progress on the nuclear plant thus far. Curious on where you stand with respect to any end point recognizing that there is still some time before you actually shut these units down. How are negotiations and progress going there? And how also at the same time are you thinking about cash flow and the net cash flow comment in light of some of the mark-to-market improvements in the last few months in the Northeast more broadly?

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Hey, Julien. This is Drew. So on the first question regarding Indian Point, as we stated previously our intent is to follow the path similar to Pilgrim and Palisades and Vermont Yankee on Indian Point. The good news is we have a lot of time. As you've mentioned it's going to be a while before those plants are shut down. And we are receiving heightened interest because we've had success with Vermont Yankee on the NRC. So we're actually going to take some of the time to get the best deal we can and we're not going to probably talk about specifics of the process and where we are in the process as we go along.

And on the second question regarding, sorry, mark-to-market, when we were thinking about the cash measure we were thinking about potential for contributions to our decommissioning trust funds and the current market expectations through the last couple of days are reflected in our expectation of positive cash '19 to '22.

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

Got it. Excellent. And then quickly as a follow-up, good success on the regulated front as well. Are you thinking about the execution against the higher equity ratios across your service territories as well? It seems like you've had some of the settlements coming already.

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

We have. I think if you look at Texas it is close to 51%, the New Orleans request is about 50%, Louisiana is around 49%. The ones that we are still working on moving up are in Arkansas and Mississippi. I think Arkansas is the lowest at about 46% or so. So we are working on moving those up. But it'll take a little bit more time.

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

Got it. And how is that reflected just in the case of Arkansas in the context of what you've filed, I believe, as part of a settlement there too?

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

I think that was what we anticipated when we made that filing. And we are expecting to move it up over the next few years.

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

Got it. Okay. Thank you very much.

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thank you.

Leo Denault -- Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Julien.

Operator

Thank you. And our next question comes from Praful Mehta with Citigroup. Your line is now open.

Praful Mehta -- Citigroup -- Analyst

Thanks so much. Hi, guys.

Leo Denault -- Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer

Hi, Praful.

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Good morning.

Praful Mehta -- Citigroup -- Analyst

Hi. Appreciate, Leo, the update on the legal topics proactively. So appreciate that. On the quarter I wanted to firstly talk on load growth. The load growth year-to-date you mentioned is about 0.5% but your guidance assumption was more like negative 0.7%. So just wanted to understand what's driving the improvement year-to-date and is that more sustainable do you think or is that more 2018 specific?

Roderick West -- Group President, Utility Operations

It's Rod. I think driving the year we saw continued strong industrial growth. But what was different was the residential and commercial sector being stronger than we anticipated. But to your question about how we think about that in the outlook our outlook haven't change given the guidance we gave you through, I belief, 2022. So we're not making any adjustments to our long-term outlook.

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

(inaudible) we're expecting AMI as we deploy that will give our customers better information and that will actually put some pressure on residential and commercial sales as we go forward (inaudible).

Praful Mehta -- Citigroup -- Analyst

Got you. Fair enough. And Drew maybe for you the second question more on finance and like the credit side. It looks like your FFO to debt obviously has gone below the 15% target that you have and the debt to cap has gone above the 65%. Wanted to understand are the rating agencies allowing you some time to deal with this ADIT credit and kind of allow that lower than 15% for a couple of years? How is that pressure or discussion with the agency going?

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yes. Praful they're fully aware of where we are and our plan associated with the excess ADIT. And what we've committed to for FFO to debt is 15% or above starting in 2020. And they're aware of that. And if you actually back out the excess ADIT you will see that we're still at 15% on that. There's a reconciliation in the back of the materials. On the debt to total capital, I don't know that they focus on that as much. They're going to be -- the main measure that Moody's in particular is looking at is that parent to the total debt. And so we're maintaining that at or below 25%. And that number should start to drop over the next few quarters as we pull down on our equity forward.

Praful Mehta -- Citigroup -- Analyst

Got you. Much appreciated, guys and look forward to catching up at EEI. Thanks.

Leo Denault -- Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Praful.

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Praful.

Operator

Thank you. And our next question comes from Greg Gordon with Evercore. Your line is now open.

Gregory Gordon -- Evercore ISI -- Analyst

Thanks. Good morning.

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Good morning.

Leo Denault -- Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer

Hi, Greg.

Gregory Gordon -- Evercore ISI -- Analyst

I'm just wondering when we see you guys at the EEI and we talk about the capital plan, I mean your capital plan has been dominated by -- well not dominated by, but a large portion of your capital plan has been focused on building large -- medium to large size CCGT's combustion turbines, the rice plant in New Orleans. How much should we expect your -- the type of capital you are spending to evolve with regard to thinking about renewables, battery storage, energy efficiency technologies behind the meter as we move into the paradigm that other regions of the country, other utilities have sort of been compelled to or proactively embracing in terms of technological change?

Leo Denault -- Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, Greg I'll start and let to Drew jump in. At Analyst Day we talked about the continued need for new generation. Obviously that's actually when we had identified the Mississippi need at that point. If you think about the generation that we have, we will still continue to need to refresh that as we get through time. We still have a significant amount of legacy generation that we can replace with new or more modern, more efficient better environmental footprint type of stuff. But as we also mentioned there is a dynamic of renewables battery storage becoming economic and competitive with central station generation and that's why as we've announced in the past we've got 1,000 megawatts renewables under development at the moment.

So we continue to look at ways to test out battery storage either as we have it with our New Orleans solar facility right now or even on grid and other areas where it would be useful for us to have battery storage. This is not necessarily only for the backup of generation, but some to me the T&D needs of the system. But as you might recall also when we are at Analyst Day we started to talk a lot more about grid modernization and where we could go with customer facing types of investments. So we see that picking up as well. Really in addition to and post AMI, we should have a significant amount of investment where devices that give us more information about the grid, give us more capability to do things remotely, give us a little bit better troubleshooting capability and all that in addition to how we manage information and data and analytics that go to our customers. So I guess the bottom line is we continue to have a lot of the traditional investment, particular given the growth in the service territory but you should see more and more of our investment start to pick up on the P&D side as well as we put together more of a grid modernization package.

So the bottom line is we are wanting for capital expenditure ideas. We're just managing those with what are the things that give us the most bang for a buck for our customers that continue to keep us as the lowest price utility in the United States and to continue to improve our reliability all -- managing all of those at the same time with a keen eye on where we're going from an environmental footprint standpoint.

Each one of those new power plants that we add adds a new resource that's significantly more environmentally friendly that we want to replace. Certainly we would go renewables and battery storage more and more and that will improve our environmental footprint.

And then as Drew mentioned AMI and some of these other technologies will get us in a mode that actually drive our customer usage in a way that we're producing less such that we've got lower emissions as well. So a lot of win-win opportunities out there as technology starts to improve.

Gregory Gordon -- Evercore ISI -- Analyst

Thanks. (multiple speakers) Sorry, go ahead.

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

I'll just finish that up. And I don't have a lot to add. In the operational IT kind of area where we talk about AMI and our new systems and distribution automation that kind of stuff, we are anticipating spending around $1.8 billion, $1.9 billion associated with that through the entire program. Now a little bit of that has been spend in '18. A lot of the meters which probably make up $700 million, $800 million of it are going to start to roll out in January and be through '21. And then we're going to also start to pick up distribution automation in that same time frame.

So we have a significant amount of spending that we have identified. And then we also have some of the build on transfers like the nearly 100 megawatts (ph) of solar that we have proposed in New Orleans and so forth. So there is some of it in our capital plan right now but as Leo said there's a lot more to go.

Gregory Gordon -- Evercore ISI -- Analyst

One question on follow-up, different topic and I think I applaud your desire to simplify your earnings disclosures. They are very, very, very complete and new but probably we could use some simplification going forward. But on that front for many, many years you've had a very successful ability to bring in earnings through tax and while that's created a lot of volatility it's created value. How deep of a well should we assume you have, I mean there must be a finite opportunity to go back and work with the IRS and the states to improve your tax positions pro forma. It's been so many years since year-after-year you've been successful in making that kind of a profit center. How long should we assume that can continue?

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Greg, this is Drew. So certainly we think about that like we think about other line items and to the extent that we can benefit our customers, we would certainly continue to go look for opportunities. And so that part won't change and so I think we will continue to drive in that direction for the time being and for the foreseeable future. We do think that there might be other things out there but they're not well baked enough at this point to be able to articulate exactly what they would be or when they would come.

Gregory Gordon -- Evercore ISI -- Analyst

Okay. Thank you, guys.

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thank you.

Leo Denault -- Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Greg.

Operator

Thank you. And our next question comes from Jonathan Arnold with Deutsche Bank. Your line is now open.

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

Good morning, guys.

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Good morning, Jonathan.

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

Just a question. I believe when you recently announced the Holtec deal you indicated that you felt that it would be quicker to get through the NRC process second time around and you put some parameters around that. So I'm just curious having completed the Vermont Yankee do you still feel that's the case? And can you remind us sort of what your thought process around getting the Palisades and Pilgrim done would be time-wise?

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Sure. This is Drew. And as you remember Jonathan, the Vermont Yankee deal is kind of a first of a kind deal. So everybody was learning through that process and certainly the NRC was learning through the process and we would expect that there would be some kind of learning curve associated with it. And so our current anticipation is that we'll complete the Pilgrim process by the end of next year. The Palisades process of course won't commence until 2022. But we would expect sometime second half of 2022 is whenever we would be able to close that particular half of the transaction.

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

Okay. Did I hear you right that you'd file with the NRC on Pilgrim this quarter or early next year? Sorry, I missed it.

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

We're aiming for this quarter. We're aiming for this quarter.

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

So you're thinking this is roughly a little over a year process now rather than however long VY took?

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, roughly, exactly.

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

Great. Okay, thank you very much.

Leo Denault -- Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. And our next question comes from Paul Fremont with Mizuho. Your line is now open.

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

Thanks. I guess you mentioned sort of a commitment to an improved FFO to debt ratio by 2020. Can you just elaborate on how you go from the current level to the committed higher level that you've promised for the rating agencies?

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yes. Paul this is Drew. So I think the main difference is just absence of returning -- assets returning all that cash. So I think of it as a top line deficit of year-to-date $342 million. You add that back in it should to improve. The other thing I think that will improve is just the business as well. Things like the Choctaw transaction, Moody's actually wrote about it as a positive thing because we'll go into rates as soon as we close and we'll start to collect on that. There won't be any lag associated with it and it's a significant investment. So that should improve our cash coverage ratios.

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

Okay. And you don't anticipate then any need for equity over the next several years then?

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yes. It's no different than what we said at Analyst Day which is nothing expected until 2021 or beyond.

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

Okay. Thank you.

Leo Denault -- Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Paul.

Operator

Thank you. And the next question comes from Charles Fishman with Morningstar Research. Your line is now open.

Charles Fishman -- Morningstar Equity Research -- Analyst

Thank you. First condolences on Wayne. I know he meant a lot to people at your end. He certainly was a well-respected executive among the analyst community.

Leo Denault -- Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Charles. Appreciate it.

Charles Fishman -- Morningstar Equity Research -- Analyst

Slide 37 on the special items, just had a couple of questions on that. Fourth line down the gain/loss on sale of assets, that line is driven by the performance of MBT. Is that correct?

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

A little bit. And ARO as we mentioned, for Pilgrim this quarter the ARO change that's a decreasing cost estimate change. And it actually changed the amount of the loss that we would have experienced in 2019 next year and moved it forward to this quarter. So you saw that come down a little bit as it relates to the Pilgrim transaction. The other thing that's been going on is we've been working hard on some deferred tax assets that we have in those companies -- those project companies. And to the extent that we can find ways to utilize those we wouldn't have to write them off.

Charles Fishman -- Morningstar Equity Research -- Analyst

So the ARO revaluation you move that to '18 and that went up in what line two? And then there was also an improvement in line four on the gain/loss. Is that -- did I get --?

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yes. but it would have been in different years, yeah. So it would have gotten in in '18 and out in '19.

Charles Fishman -- Morningstar Equity Research -- Analyst

Okay. I think I understand it. Thanks a lot. (inaudible)

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, David and Neal (ph) have lots of time to explain that off the call. But, yeah, it basically we're expecting a larger loss at Pilgrim, now it would be a smaller loss because of that.

Charles Fishman -- Morningstar Equity Research -- Analyst

Got it. Thank you.

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. And I'm showing no further questions at this time. I would like to turn the call back over to David Borde for any closing remarks.

David Borde -- Vice President of Investor Relations

Thank you Jimmy and thanks to everyone for participating this morning. Our annual report on Form 10-Q (ph) is due to the SEC on November 9th and provides more details on disclosures about our financial statements. Events that occur prior to the date of our 10-Q filing that provide additional evidence of conditions that existed at the date of the balance sheet would be reflected in our financial statements in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.

Also as a reminder we maintain a web page as part of Entergy's Investor Relations website called Regulatory and Other Information which provides key updates of regulatory proceedings and important milestones on our strategic execution. While some of this information may be considered material information, you should not rely exclusively on this page for all relevant Company information. And this concludes our call. Thank you very much.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your participation in today's conference. This does conclude your program and you may disconnect. Everyone have a great day.

Duration: 43 minutes

Call participants:

David Borde -- Vice President of Investor Relations

Leo Denault -- Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer

Andrew Marsh -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

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

Praful Mehta -- Citigroup -- Analyst

Roderick West -- Group President, Utility Operations

Gregory Gordon -- Evercore ISI -- Analyst

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

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

Charles Fishman -- Morningstar Equity Research -- Analyst

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