NextEra Energy (NYSE:NEE) announced this week that it is headed to the source for natural gas. It's seeking approval to partner directly with PetroQuest Energy (NYSE: PQ) to frack natural gas from up to 38 wells in Southeastern Oklahoma. So did green NextEra just turn to the dark side? Here's what you need to know.
Winding up wind
NextEra Energy, is America's undisputed wind leader. With over 10,200 net MW of wind power spread across 100 farms in 19 states and Canada, this energy corporation has a green streak few other companies can compete with.
But despite its major wind assets, NextEra Energy is no pure renewable play. The energy company has its hands in natural gas, nuclear, and even oil. While this latest gas will be fracked and served up directly to its regulated Florida Power & Gas (FPL) business, NextEra's competitive energy business has had natural gas notions for quite some time. NextEra Energy Resources relies on natural gas facilities in five states for 22% of its generation capacity, the second-largest fuel source after wind.
NextEra Energy is also partnering with Spectra Energy (NYSE:SE) to construct Florida's third major natural gas pipeline. The 474-mile interstate line is expected to come online in 2017 and is meant to help Florida and the Southeast better meet their growing energy demands. The move will also generate well-regarded "toll booth" revenue for NextEra and Spectra Energy, a low-risk steady-reward model that income investors can't get enough of.
With this latest announcement, NextEra Energy, is getting closer to gas than ever before. Through its proposed joint-development project with PetroQuest Energy, NextEra money will be slotted directly for the production of up to 38 wells -- something that environmentally minded investors might be uneasy with.
But there's method to NextEra's madness. Florida Power & Light already purchases up to 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas every day, putting the company in an awkward middle-man position between gas producers and electricity consumers. By making its business more vertical, NextEra will be able to keep power prices steadier for years to come. According to Natural Gas Intel, the utility could receive up to 46 million cubic feet per day when production hits its peak.
As Florida Power & Light President and CEO Eric Silagy puts it:
With a growing fleet of cleaner, fuel-efficient natural gas-fired power plants and contracts for reliable and diverse gas transportation in place, we believe this to be the next logical step in providing clean electricity for our customers at affordable prices. This investment in natural gas production is an important component for delivering lower, more stable natural gas prices for our customers, and we anticipate identifying additional investment opportunities, thereby benefiting our customers even more over the long term. Importantly, customers will realize the greatest amount of savings in the early years when wells typically produce the most natural gas.
No fracking way?
NextEra Energy, is a powerful and admirable force in the renewable energy world -- but its wind assets could never be as numerous as they are today without natural gas. When the wind is blowing, NextEra can nab all the renewable energy it needs. But when the breeze dies, natural gas is there to pick up the load, covering peak power whenever necessary. Natural gas and wind are complementary energy sources, like it or not.
While NextEra Energy may be closer to fracking and natural gas' source than ever before, nothing has changed. Environmentalists against fracking have the same reasons to dislike NextEra Energy, as they did before, while gas proponents can simply celebrate NextEra's newfound savings. It ain't easy being green, and NextEra is filling up on gas to keep winning with wind.