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Clearway Energy (CWEN -0.63%)
Q4 2022 Earnings Call
Feb 23, 2023, 8:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:


Operator

Good day and thank you for standing by. Welcome to the Clearway Energy, Inc. fourth-quarter 2022 earnings conference call. [Operator instructions] Please be advised that today's conference is being recorded.

I would now like to hand the conference over to your speaker today, Chris Sotos, president and CEO of Clearway Energy, Inc. Please go ahead.

Chris Sotos -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you and good morning. Let me first thank you for taking the time to join Clearway Energy, Inc.'s fourth-quarter call. Joining me this morning are Akil Marsh, director of investor relations and, Craig Cornelius, president and CEO of Clearway Energy Group, our sponsor. Craig will be available for the Q&A portion of our presentation.

Before we begin, I'd like to quickly note that today's discussion will contain forward-looking statements which are based on assumptions that we believe to be reasonable as of this date. Actual results may differ materially. Please review the Safe Harbor and today's presentation, as well as the risk factors on our SEC filings. In addition, we will refer to both GAAP and non-GAAP financial measures.

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For information regarding our non-GAAP financial measures and reconciliations to the most directly comparable GAAP measures, please refer to today's presentation. Turning to Page 3. The company generated full-year CAFD of 326 million, short of its full-year guidance of 350 million, predominantly due to weak fourth-quarter wind resource and December's winter storms. Our CAFD generation in 2022 was below expectations.

Clearway executed well to increase long-term pro forma CAFD through the closing of the Thermal transaction and a commitment of nearly 350 million in new investments. In addition, with the contracting of El Segundo's capacity through 2026, we have reduced the volatility in the natural gas fleet, and Clearway is currently ahead of schedule in terms of repairs of the facility. Last week, Clearway announced it increased its dividend by 2% to $0.3745 per share, or a $1.498 on annualized basis, keeping us on target to achieve the upper range of our dividend growth objectives for 2023. We're also reaffirming our 2023 CAFD guidance of $410 million.

Clearway's sponsor continues a strong growth in its development pipeline, which now stands at nearly 28 gigawatts, with over 7 gigawatts of projects in late stages of development; nearly 5 gigawatts of revenue contracts contracted, awarded, or in late stages of negotiation as of the end of 2022. Furthermore, Clearway's sponsor is accelerating work to enable us to repower and augment our fleet, aided by incentives passed last year that will enable accretive investments that also expand the life of our assets with over 1 gigawatt of potential repowering over the next four years. As part of the previously announced Capistrano acquisition and a first step in that repowering campaign, we are pleased to disclose that the Cedro Hill project has recently amended its PPA on terms that would allow for repowering in 2024. As part of this continued growth trajectory, Clearway now has committed to invest in Victory Pass and Arica projects with a commitment of $228 million, over half of the capital targeted for deployment and the currently offered dropdown from Clearway Energy Group.

As a result, we are increasing our pro forma CAFD outlook from 390 million to 410 million, with continued line of sight for the remaining Thermal proceeds deployment to achieve $2.15 CAFD per share. This deployment in accretive assets provides strong visibility to achieve the upper end of our range of 5% to 8% DPS growth rate through 2026. In summary, Clearway continues to execute its growth plans, so it's well positioned to fully deploy the Thermal proceeds during 2024 and continue to grow beyond the $2.15 of CAFD per share. Turning to Slide 4 to provide more details and financial results.

For the full year, Clearway's reporting adjusted EBITDA of $1.160 million and cash available for distribution, or CAFD, of $326 million. Fourth quarter results came in at $212 million of adjusted EBITDA and -$2 million of CAFD. In the quarter, the most notable headwind was an approximate $16 million negative impact from lower renewable performance. This is primarily due to weak wind resource, which was a trend observed throughout the industry in the quarter, as well as weaker wind resource at certain solar assets.

The wind production index for Clearway's fleet, which represents a measure of actual production relative to internal P50 expectations, was 84% in the quarter for the wind portfolio with all regions recording weak wind resource, including the Alta Wind complex, our largest asset, with wind production index measurement came in at 89% for the quarter. A second related but less significant driver of renewable financial performance in the quarter was the impact that W​inter Storm Elliott had in ERCOT and PJM, during which we experienced modest adverse financial impacts from financial settlements at a select set of our wind assets when prices were elevated and generation was low at those facilities. Lastly, in the conventional segment, we made a decision in the fourth quarter to actively accelerate the previously disclosed replacement of two bundles at El Segundo, was impacted reported results in the quarter. Accelerating the replacement during a period of relatively low toll pricing has put Clearway ahead of schedule to replace the two bundles at the facility.

This will allow us to going to be well-positioned to provide critical grid reliability services, as well as generate additional revenue from dispatching to the merchant power markets in the second half of 2023. Turning to balance sheet activity in the quarter. We repaid the outstanding project-level debt for El Segundo in December for approximately $130 million as we previously indicated on our last call. In connection with the repayment, $35 million of restricted cash held at the project level subsidiary reserve for debt service payments was distributed to Clearway, thereby reducing the near-term corporate liquidity impact.

Turning to Slide 5. We want to provide an overview of our latest dropdown commitment, Victory Pass and Arica Solar. These investments represent a capital commitment of $228 million with a five-year average asset CAFD of $20 million, yielding a 9% [Inaudible] CAFD yield on asset which should reach COD in the second half of 2023. This investment expands our storage project base, which, in this case, is backed by a diverse set of four 15-year contracts with leading load serving entities in California and will add to a growing portfolio of battery resources that we'll be operating in [Inaudible], providing critical and complementary resources in a system where they're greatly valued.

Overall, the projects exhibit a very desirable commercial profile for us. They will serve a diversified set of high-quality customers with contracts on a weighted average basis, have a contract duration of approximately 14 years, and they will be operating in the home market where we have great operational strength. The investments in Victory Pass and Arica are an important first step toward deploying roughly a third of the $630 million in excess capital from the Thermal sale, as we discussed on our last call, beyond Capistrano. We expect to continue working with Clearway Group to provide further concrete visibility regarding this capital deployment in the coming months.

Please turn to Page 6. Page 6 provides an update of progress on the previously discussed dropdowns from our sponsor. As you can see on the left side of the page, with the commitment on Victory Pass and Arica, where we can now increase pro forma CAFD outlook to $2.03 a share, as VP/Arica achieves commercial operation in the second half of 2023. The remaining dropdowns that we are currently working on with Clearway Group represent additional anticipated commitment of $180 million to then be followed by the next dropdown offer of approximately $220 million.

Importantly, and as noted here, our sponsor is also offering this next set of dropdown opportunities and increased yields so we can continue to generate accretive total returns for our shareholders in today's market backdrop. When fully operational, these acquisitions will provide Clearway with a clear line of sight to $2.15 of CAFD per share. In summary, we continue to make progress in providing investors with further visibility into the redeployment of the Thermal excess proceeds less than 12 months after the divestiture closed. Turning to Page 7.

2022 was an excellent year in terms of execution for Clearway. We achieved year-over-year DPS growth at the high end of our target, added capacity contract length in El Segundo, and a visibility into deploying 100% of the Thermal excess capital into dropdown assets and acquisitions to provide greater certainty around our $2.15 line of sight CAFD per share goal. And looking forward to 2023, we continue to focus on our projects' performance and continued execution around growth. Despite some of the volatility in 2022, the platform is well-positioned to achieve DPS growth at the upper range of our 5% to 8% long-term objective in 2023, given the accretive growth capital deployed in 2022, and operational improvements made in El Segundo.

In addition, by year-end, we want to demonstrate additional growth beyond that currently embedded in our $2.15 line of sight CAFD per share. While the accretive deployment of the Thermal proceeds provide our investors with the longest visibility regarding growth in our platform's history, our intent is not to sit on our hands for the next four years. Clearway will continue to source growth opportunities beyond the deployment of the Thermal proceeds that meet our core underwriting standards. In summary, Clearway Energy, Inc.

continues its focus on prudent growth and has the confidence and ability to meet its long-term objectives, due in part to strong sponsor support to ensure Clearway's success. Operator, please open the lines for questions.

Questions & Answers:


Operator

Thank you. [Operator instructions] Our first question comes from the line of Noah Kaye with Oppenheimer and Company. Your line is now open.

Noah Kaye -- Oppenheimer and Company -- Analyst

Hey, good morning. Thanks for taking the questions. First, Victory Pass and Arica Solar. Can you just tell us how much merchant contribution from the storage projects contributes to the CAFD expectations? And can you also detail the length of tolling your other resource adequacy contracts on those projects?

Chris Sotos -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. The contracts basically last for 15 years. Some of them start a year after COD. So, that's what we say the weighted average is around 14.

In terms of how much is contracted, about 95%, 94% is contracted in terms of overall capacity. In terms of cash, that's a little bit tougher because, you know, cash is fungible. But for us, the vast majority of the asset is contracted kind of over that time frame.

Noah Kaye -- Oppenheimer and Company -- Analyst

That's very good to hear. Thank you. And then, you know, maybe can we talk a little bit about some of the factors that are driving the changes in expected COD timing at CEG for 2024, 2025. There are a few factors mentioned in the deck but would love to get your view of the development environment and some of those timing considerations.

Chris Sotos -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. I'll kind of start, and then Craig can pitch in, obviously, as he's working through all of that. I think from our view, the one part we recently closed Daggett 3, which basically had been out for a while. That was one of the projects that was delayed.

So, I think we're definitely seeing progress on kind of closing out some of those delays that we saw before when there was, you know, several changes in kind of governmental policy around that. But, Craig, on the development pipeline.

Craig Cornelius -- Chief Executive Officer, Clearway Energy Group

Yeah. Sure. Thanks for the question, Noah. First, for the assets that we have in construction stage, we're quite happy with the performance that our organization and our suppliers are driving today.

As we've noted in the materials, all those assets that are committed or have been offered to CWind are on track today for construction completion this year, equipment is flowing freely. Construction activity at all of those assets is actually outperforming baseline expectations. So, we're quite happy with how we're doing there in assets stage for construction and completion in 2023 and early 2024. As we look out to 2024, we again feel good about the supply chain for the core late-stage assets that underpin the dropdown offers we pointed to making in the first half of 2023 that will support fundings for CWind as we exit 2024.

We have the wind turbine supplies, battery supplies, panel supplies that are required for those and with suppliers who have demonstrated the ability to perform for us in today's environment. As we look out to the later stages of 2024, '25, '26, what we're balancing, and as I think you're alluding to, is how best to align demand from load-serving entities who have an interest in procuring resources under contractual structures that are especially desirable for the YieldCo investment mandate that we want to support: the availability of equipment, ideally, equipment that could qualify projects for domestic content; tax credit supplements; clarification on Treasury guidance that may underpin financing structures and tax credit elections; and then ultimately, what's optimal in terms of construction, seasonality, and schedule. And so, those are the things that we balance. We also want to try to sort projects into vintages so that in any given year, the project inventory that we have doesn't accelerate beyond the ability of us to prudently capitalize those assets into our YieldCo, which is the repository for the assets that we want to create predominantly.

So, those are the things that we balance. We're happy with what we have in terms of our outlook for being able to support 2.5 gigawatts or more worth of annualized construction volume out into the mid-decade that would support growth beyond 2.15 per share. And it's conceivable that based on how the next few months' worth of Treasury guidance sorts out, that we may be able to bring a bit more volume back into 2024 versus what you see represented in the pipeline slide.

Noah Kaye -- Oppenheimer and Company -- Analyst

That's a great summary, Craig, thanks. And I'm sure others will have follow-up questions, but for now, I'll turn it back in the queue.

Craig Cornelius -- Chief Executive Officer, Clearway Energy Group

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Julien Dumoulin-Smith with Bank of America. Your line is now open.

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

Hey, guys, it's Julien here. Thanks for the time and the opportunity. Super quick, just can we talk a little bit about the outage expectations, just where we are on running gas assets? And then also, all together, any thoughts about spark spread outlook, etc., just given the -- with the events of late with gas procurement. I assume, to a large extent, you're mitigated from some of the volatility you've seen out west, but I just want to clarify that, given the nature of the offtake that you've put in place here.

And then, subsequently, if I can, I'll just throw in the other question. Just, you know, rolling forward to 2027, how do you think about, you know, doing that and ultimately pivoting to that more formally to the higher end?

Chris Sotos -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Got it. So, three questions, so, hopefully, I break them apart correctly. I think I'll kind of maybe address your second question first in terms of spark spread. I think the volatility that we're seeing in natural gas is obviously a little bit different at California city gates, where obviously that's the most important area where gas is delivered.

And there, we're still seeing good pricing on gas kind of being in the fives. So, I think, once again, yeah, as you're aware, Julien, the different assets roll off of their tolls at different times during the year. We're very heavily weighted toward that merchant curve in kind of the July through end of the year time frame. So, that's really what's most critical.

But I think, for us, the fundamental characteristics that we saw that underpinned our estimates were, A, good natural gas price, which has been maintained at the city gate; B, our assets are still needed for the duck curve, which we definitely don't see going away here in the near term in terms of their ability to be faster in load pockets; and C, overall, still a very robust kind of overall load growth in terms of California as well with electrification of vehicles and the like. So, we think the fundamental underpinnings that you have our estimates in 2023 and also longer term, and the, you know, $1 to $1.50 of energy margin long term, we still feel are pretty good. To your first question around outages, I think as we talked a little bit about in my prepared remarks, you know, want to make sure that what happened in El Segundo in the third quarter does not happen again. But we had five years without kind of a significant incident.

So, whenever we have the chance, our replacing the two bundles, which were the issue that created the outage, the unplanned outage, as quick as we can. So, we're ahead of schedule and expect the vast majority to be completed by kind of end of the second quarter. And hopefully, once again, I can't promise anything, but we have the machine in good shape by then. But we continue to replace them as quickly as possible and took the opportunity in December when the toll prices are a little bit lower than obviously summer time to do that.

To your third question around looking at 2027, I think there, as discussed on previous calls over the years, we'll participate in the capacity auctions -- in RA procurement in summer. We'll see where that ends up. We may win, we may get awarded, we may not. We'll see where that goes.

But I think that, combined with further dropdowns and maybe some repowering, is what could give us growth in 2027. But you know, Julien, until I have that math tied out, I kind of won't show that until I'm very confident of where the math sits. But I think we're well positioned here in February to be able to show that by November.

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

Got it. And then, related to that, when you think about, you know, your upper range, your words, 5%, you know, when do you start to get a little bit more crystallized about just changing the rather range to a narrow range or a specific number, etc., through a, you know, a certain period or what have you, again, given what you have in hand already in terms of acquisitions? And then, maybe related to that, you've got a lot in hand already that you've lined up. What about further opportunities maybe away from Clearway Group overall?

Chris Sotos -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. So, as usual, Julien, we had a couple of questions to unpack. I think part one is, you know, kind of looking what we prefer to do is kind of grow into 2027. So to your point, we've talked about the upper range through kind of '26.

And our goal is to be able to show some demonstrable growth in 2027, right? We want to start at 5% and kind of be able to grow it from there. As we've talked about over the years, I typically, and I think investors as well, value more an extension in duration of the dividend visibility versus an absolute number. So, if you told me, hey, would I rather be able to show, you know, 5% growth in '27 and 3% growth in '28 versus 8% in '27? To be simplistic, I think that's a better profile for us overall, as I can continue to show growth in that visibility for longer, longer tenors. To your second question around, you know, kind of other opportunities, yes, we're engaged in the M&A market.

We looked at a variety of assets. We're pretty active. I do think that, as I've talked about on previous calls, you know, a lot of these auctions, right or wrong, we have a different view on pricing of those assets. And so, we're we've had a lot of successes on the bilateral side.

The tough part is that the bilateral takes a lot of shoe leather, for lack of a better term, of really reaching out to a variety of counterparties, trying to shake assets loose, and requires quite a bit of additional work. So, we're participating in those auctions. But, yeah, we've tend to be a little bit short in terms of where we view appropriate pricing. And bilateral is something we're going to push here in 2023 to see if we can continue our success of M&A, as we've demonstrated with Capistrano, Mt.

Storm, and the other half of Utah.

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

Got it. Awesome. All right. Well, good luck, guys.

Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Chris Sotos -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yep.

Operator

Thank you. [Operator instructions] Our next question comes from the line of Angie Storozynski with Seaport Research Partners. Your line is now open.

Angie Storozynski -- Seaport Research Partners -- Analyst

Good morning. So, maybe I missed that. Good morning. I was just wondering, you mentioned some operational issues and performance of assets during December.

Is any of these issues related to your wind farms in Texas?

Chris Sotos -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. We said there was a modest issue in terms of overall CAFD. The vast majority you can kind of see, and I believe it's Page 12 of the deck that has kind of wind resource. Just we ended up with an exceptionally poor wind resource during the quarter.

So, if that is an operational issue, no, it's more just unfortunate wind resource, especially in October and December.

Angie Storozynski -- Seaport Research Partners -- Analyst

OK. And then, secondly, so I appreciate the -- you know, the regional differences in natural gas prices and the strength at PG&E Citygate. But are you -- I mean, did you hedge any of the exposure, especially on the CCGT side? I understand it's kind of hard to hedge spark spreads for the peaking assets, but you're basically fully merchant. And so, you know, your profitability sort of swings with those changes in spark spreads.

Chris Sotos -- President and Chief Executive Officer

On to your question, you know, simple answer is we are open on merchant energy once the toll rolls off. To your point, we've tended not to hedge them because they're peakers. And also, you know, just as you probably know, but has the capability to run as a peaker. So, it does that quite a bit as well.

So, to your question, we didn't hedge out the energy. I think, you know, the capacity is fully hedged, however, in 2023 through 2026, fourth quarter '26. So, we're open on energy, but we still feel very good about our estimate given, you know, it was for a partial year, so.

Angie Storozynski -- Seaport Research Partners -- Analyst

OK. And then, lastly, you mentioned, you know, you're looking at various M&A opportunities. You know, your peer announced a strategic review. I don't even know if you can comment, but I mean, would you, for example, consider owning assets outside of the United States or outside of the Americas?

Chris Sotos -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, outside of the United States or it was outside of the Americas, that's simply no. If someone said, hey, there was a portfolio that was 95% in the U.S. and 5% in Canada or something like that, maybe look at that. I wouldn't want to say, you know, it's a binary outcome.

But if your question is do we have any goals to, you know, substantively change our portfolio mix to outside of the United States, that answer is no.

Angie Storozynski -- Seaport Research Partners -- Analyst

OK. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of William Grippin with UBS. Your line is now open.

William Grippin -- UBS -- Analyst

Right. Thanks very much. Just one quick one for me. You know, I guess now that you've got line of sight to allocating the 750 million in excess Thermal sale proceeds, maybe just could you speak to how you're thinking about sort of funding mix for any other acquisitions kind of post that 750 million?

Chris Sotos -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. The first part always comes from retained cash. So, once again, our payout ratio is, call it, 80%, 85% in terms of our guidance. So, on $410 million of guidance, we have about $80 million of cash, rounding.

That's obviously the first utilization. Then second, we probably are underlevered within the 4 to 4.5 currently. We may be a little bit, but we would use any leverage capacity that we have, second. And then, lastly, would be equity.

I think, again, we have some pockets of assets that don't have nonrecourse debt on them. If, you know, 2007, 2008 were to show up in the equity markets, were to kind of fall out of bed, we would probably use some of those nonrecourse financing capabilities we have on some of those assets. But really, in a normal course of business, the first move is excess cash; second is leverage within about a 4 to 4.5 times kind of corporate debt to corporate EBITDA calc; and then, lastly, equity issuance.

William Grippin -- UBS -- Analyst

Got it. Thanks very much.

Operator

Thank you. And I'm currently showing no further questions at this time. I'd like to hand the call back over to Chris Sotos for closing remarks.

Chris Sotos -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you. Once again, thanks, everyone, for joining the call. I know it's a busy day for everyone. So, really appreciate the support and look forward to continue discussing our growth in 2023.

Thank you for your time.

Operator

[Operator signoff]

Duration: 0 minutes

Call participants:

Chris Sotos -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Noah Kaye -- Oppenheimer and Company -- Analyst

Craig Cornelius -- Chief Executive Officer, Clearway Energy Group

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

Angie Storozynski -- Seaport Research Partners -- Analyst

William Grippin -- UBS -- Analyst

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