Dominion Energy Inc (D -0.04%) is one the nation's largest utilities, and it's looking to get bigger via the proposed purchase of peer SCANA Corporation (SCG). That's a huge opportunity for the company to spur growth over the long term, but it's not the only opportunity ahead of this diversified utility. Here are three things you should be watching at Dominion as it looks to grow.
1. SCANA Corporation
There's no question that SCANA is a big deal for Dominion. However, that's not a comment on the size of the acquisition: Dominion's market cap is roughly $49 billion, and SCANA's is around $6.5 billion. It's more of a bolt on deal, though Dominion believes it will add to earnings in the first year and push earnings growth up from around 6% to 8%.
The big benefit, however, is longer term than that. SCANA's utility operations are in the Carolinas and Georgia. Southeastern states have seen notable population growth, which means more customers for utilities. North and South Carolina, for example, were both in the top 10 for annual inbound domestic moving between 2011 and 2016. What Dominion is really buying is a collection of utility assets that are likely to see strong customer growth for many years into the future. Yes, there will be an instant boost to Dominion's total customer count, but it's the ability to keep growing that number over time that is the real benefit here.
Of course, the negative is that Dominion will have to clean up the nuclear investment that went south on SCANA when Westinghouse, the company building the project, declared bankruptcy. But Dominion appears confident that it can do that without skipping a beat on the earnings or dividend growth front. In fact, management continues to expect dividend growth of 10% over the next two years despite the merger.
2. Utility spending
Even if Dominion doesn't end up buying SCANA, though, it has notable opportunities. The biggest is continued capital spending at its regulated utilities. For example, the company is currently building a $1.3 billion natural gas power plant in Greensville County, VA, that it is proud to report is both on-time and on-budget. Investments like these are what allow utilities to get regulators to approve customer price increases.
That power plant, though, is just one project. Dominion is also looking to spend $4 billion to upgrade and extend the life of two nuclear power plants. It has plans to build $2 billion worth of energy storage assets. And it wants to pay more than $2 billion to upgrade its energy transmission assets. All of this spending won't happen in a single year, it will be spread over time and provide a runway for continued growth -- growth that will take place regardless of the outcome of the SCANA deal.
3. Natural gas
The third big opportunity to watch at Dominion is natural gas. There's a couple of worthwhile events taking shape: For starters, the utility has an opportunity to expand and upgrade is delivery systems. But that's overshadowed by the company's efforts to build midstream assets like the Cove Point LNG and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
Cove point is a liquified natural gas (LNG) hub that already has customers lined up and will allow Dominion to facilitate the sale of U.S. LNG to world markets. This asset is up and running. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a major natural gas pipeline project backed by Dominion (48% ownership), Duke Energy (47%), and Southern Company (5%) that is under construction and should be completed in 2019. It will help supply the fuel to an area that is seeing increased demand.
However, the really big benefit here is related to Dominion Energy Midstream Partners LP (NYSE: DM), Dominion Energy's controlled midstream partnership. As dominion completes midstream projects like the ones above it can then sell (also called "dropping down") the assets to Dominion Energy Midstream Partners. That will allow Dominion to monetize the assets while still retaining control of them and benefiting from them financially (through partner distributions, management fees, and incentive distribution rights). Essentially, Dominion can use its controlled partnership to free up capital for future growth.
More than just one deal
There's a lot to like about Dominion's ability to meet its 6% earnings growth and 10% dividend growth target over the next couple of years. Adding SCANA to the fold is a big opportunity, as it will help to push earnings growth a little higher, but it certainly isn't needed to make Dominion and its 4% dividend yield an attractive opportunity for investors. Capital spending at Dominion's existing electric utility assets and its plans on the natural gas side of its business should keep the diversified utility growing for years into the future. If you are looking for a utility that keeps putting up solid numbers, the opportunities ahead of Dominion make it worth a deep dive even if the SCANA merger doesn't get consummated.