Renewable energy has become a real player on a global basis. According to the International Energy Agency, 41% of global energy spending was in renewables in 2017, and it projects that percentage to grow to 60% by 2030.
It might be surprising to learn that there are a handful of solid dividend stocks in the renewables space: A segment more readily known for high-growth (or just high-risk) solar stocks is also where you can find some of the best dividend stocks out there. Three that look particularly compelling today are Pattern Energy Group (PEGI), TerraForm Power (TERP), and NextEra Energy Partners (NEP 3.57%).
Let's take a closer look at each of these three companies. They all pay above-average dividends and offer solid prospects to raise their payouts, but there are a handful of things investors should consider before buying.
A turnaround that's paying off
One thing alone should be enough to put TerraForm Power on dividend investors' watchlist: It's now under the control of asset-manager extraordinaire Brookfield Asset Management.
In 2017, Brookfield acquired a controlling position (including the general partner stake) in TerraForm from bankrupt SunEdison. Since then, it has replaced the management team, improved operations, and implemented a plan to drive its returns and cash flows higher.
And it's already paying off. Last quarter, TerraForm reported 9.4% increase in EBITDA -- earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization -- and a 5.6% increase in cash available for distribution.
Seeing improvements in cash flows this quickly is a real positive, and offers solid evidence that the $0.19-per-share quarterly dividend instituted early this year is not only secure, but that management's goal to raise the payout 5% to 8% per year is likely realistic.
Even with the payout well within its ability to support, and a clear path to growth, it yields 6.9% at recent prices. Despite its history as a poor investment under SunEdison, today's TerraForm Power is worth buying and holding for many years to come.
Betting against the bears
Pattern Energy, which yields 8.4% at recent prices, is decidedly high-yield, and there are plenty of investors who think the payout will get cut before it goes higher. But I think Mister Market's expectation that it will have to cut the payout may be overdone.
And I'm not alone. Pattern Energy shares have gained 18% since March, in large part because management has been steadfast that the dividend is secure. Pattern did end its streak of increasing the payout every quarter since 2014 this year, but has assuaged many investors' fears by maintaining the payout, and not cutting it.
There's more to like, too. So far this year, Pattern has also shown its chops at navigating the current market, including expanding into the lucrative Japanese wind market and selling its Peruvian operations at a premium to the price it generally pays for assets. Take into consideration its plans to diversify its investments into storage and solar in the future and there's a lot to like about Pattern Energy's future prospects, too, not just the stability of the dividend.
None of this has done much to get the most-bearish of investors to back away so far. At last count, almost 15% of Pattern shares were sold short. The bad news here is someone -- likely a lot of someones -- remains convinced Pattern's future isn't so secure, and there's always the chance of being wrong. But I think the shorts are wrong in this case, and that should lead to more upside if Pattern continues to execute and shorts are forced to buy their way out of their short positions to avoid losses.
When a big utility is your biggest backer
While TerraForm Energy and Pattern Energy are independent power producers, master limited partnership NextEra Energy Partners has its wagon firmly hitched to NextEra Energy, one of the biggest electric utilities in the world that also serves one of the fastest-growing markets in the U.S.: Florida. It's also one of the biggest owners and developers of both solar and wind farms in the U.S., many of which it then sells to NextEra Energy Partners.
And this partnership has paid off incredibly well for NextEra Energy Partners investors since it went public, generating 76% in total returns, outpacing the S&P 500 over the same period, even as its dividend, with a yield of 3.6% at recent prices, is substantially smaller than most renewable energy dividend stocks. Over that same period, it has also increased the dividend at an enormous rate. Its quarterly payout is up 133% in less than four years.
And I think investors can count on continued market-beating returns, since NextEra Energy Partners should continue to have access to a huge pipeline of new projects it can acquire from its parent company. It may not offer the jaw-dropping yields of Pattern Energy or TerraForm Energy, but its connection to a major utility should mean a higher rate of dividend growth, helping to make up for a lower yield than its heady peers.