Westar Energy, Great Plains try ‘merger of equals’ plan to combine utilities

Westar Energy and Great Plains Energy said their respective boards approved a revised transaction that involves no premium paid or received with respect to either company, no transaction debt, no exchange of cash, and is a stock-for-stock “merger of equals,” creating a company with a combined equity value of about $14 billion.

The new, combined utility company will provide electric service to nearly one million Kansas customers and nearly 600,000 customers in Missouri. The combined company will have a new name, yet to be established.

Westar Energy and Great Plains Energy will merge to form a new holding company, which will operate regulated electric utilities in Kansas and Missouri. Operating headquarters will be in both Topeka, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri. Corporate headquarters will be in Kansas City, Missouri.

“We are pleased to announce a revised agreement with Westar Energy that we believe directly addresses regulatory concerns with our originally-proposed transaction, while increasing the long-term value and upside opportunity for our shareholders, customers, communities and employees,” said Terry Bassham, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Great Plains Energy. “We power our communities – by generating energy, but also with the jobs we support, the value we create for shareholders, and the community support we provide. Combining Great Plains Energy and Westar Energy into one stronger, more diversified regulated utility has compelling strategic, operational and financial benefits. Together, we expect to deliver significantly more value to our shareholders than we can alone.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Westar Energy shareholders will exchange each share of Westar Energy common stock for a share in the new holding company. Great Plains Energy shareholders will receive .5981 shares of common stock in the new holding company for each Great Plains Energy share.

The transaction has a total equity value of about $14 billion. It is structured to permit a tax-free exchange of shares. No transaction debt will be incurred. The exchange ratio reflects the agreed-upon ownership split between the two companies.

Following completion of the merger, Westar Energy shareholders will own about 52.5 percent and Great Plains Energy shareholders will own about 47.5 percent of the combined company. The agreement provides that, upon closing, the new holding company expects to set its initial common dividend at a level which maintains the current dividend for Great Plains Energy shareholders. This will result in about a 15 percent dividend increase for Westar Energy shareholders.

In connection with the agreement, Great Plains Energy will redeem all of the previously issued debt and convertible preferred stock it issued in contemplation of the previous plan to acquire Westar Energy. Due to the revised nature of this transaction, Great Plains Energy and the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System have agreed to terminate their preferred convertible equity commitment.

After these financial transactions are completed, the companies anticipate that Great Plains Energy will have not less than $1.25 billion in cash on its balance sheet. After the closing of the merger, the combined company anticipates repurchasing common stock to return excess cash to shareholders and maintain a balanced consolidated capital structure.

Upon closing, Ruelle will become the non-executive chairman of the new company board. Bassham will serve as president and CEO of the new company and will also serve as a member of the board of directors. Senior management roles will be shared by executives from both companies.

Among these are: Westar’s current senior vice president and chief financial officer (CFO), Tony Somma, will become executive vice president and CFO. Kevin Bryant, current Great Plains Energy senior vice president of finance and strategy and CFO will become executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Greg Greenwood, Westar’s senior vice president of strategy, including regulatory affairs, will become the new company’s executive vice president of strategy and chief administrative officer, responsible for regulatory affairs and merger savings, among other responsibilities.

The board of directors will consist of an equal number of directors nominated from each company, including Bassham from the Great Plains Energy board and Ruelle from the Westar Energy board. The lead independent director will be Charles Q. Chandler, IV, currently Westar Energy’s independent chairman of the board.

Financial and Strategic Benefits

·      Accretion in the first year after closing and thereafter: Great Plains Energy and Westar Energy expect the merger to be accretive to their respective standalone earnings per share in the first year after closing and accretive thereafter.

·      A stronger platform for dividend growth: Upon closing, Westar Energy shareholders will see an immediate dividend uplift of about 15 percent and Great Plains Energy’s current dividend will be maintained. The companies expect dividend growth in line with earnings and a pro forma payout ratio of 60-70 percent.

·      Attractive, balanced total return for shareholders: The merger will position the combined company to deliver top quartile total shareholder returns with the company targeting compounded annual earnings per share growth of 6-8 percent from 2016-2021. Significant efficiencies available by combining utility operations should allow both quantifiable benefits for customers and afford the utilities a better opportunity to earn their allowed returns without having to resort only to rate increases. The combined company expects to have a strong balance sheet and improved free cash flows, thereby creating a robust business platform to pursue new sustainable growth opportunities including investments in additional renewables and transmission assets. In addition, the combined company anticipates implementing a share repurchase program after closing to rebalance the company’s capital structure and effectively deploy cash.

·      Improved credit profile: With no transaction debt, the companies expect that the combined company will have a strong balance sheet and long-term credit metrics that support an improving investment grade rating. Post close, the combined company and its regulated utilities expect to maintain a financial profile consistent with strong investment grade ratings of high BBB/Baa to A.

·      Increased scale and more diverse, sustainable generation portfolio: Once the transaction is complete, the combined company will have nearly 1.6 million customers in Kansas and Missouri, nearly 13,000 megawatts of generation capacity, almost 10,000 miles of transmission lines and more than 51,000 miles of distribution lines. In addition, the company will have one of the largest wind generation portfolios in the country, representing nearly one third of its retail sales. Including nuclear output, nearly half of the utility’s retail sales can be produced with zero emissions.

Customer and Community Benefits

·      Significant cost savings, operating efficiencies and proactive cost management: More than a year of integration planning has identified significant operating efficiencies and cost savings. Complementary and contiguous service territories, shared generation assets and expanded footprint are expected to create cost savings and net operating efficiencies of about $35-45 million in 2018, growing to $140-170 million by 2021 and beyond.

·      An immediate rate credit for customers: The company will provide a minimum of $50 million in total rate credits for all customers upon the closing of the transaction. The credit, which exceeds the expected net savings in 2018, will be given to customers as a one-time reduction. It is an immediate up-front benefit to customers, reflecting confidence in future operating efficiencies and cost savings the company expects to achieve over time by combining operations. Thereafter, cost savings resulting from the merger efficiencies will benefit customers through the normal regulatory process, which also will allow the combined company a better opportunity to earn its authorized return without relying solely on rate increases.

·      Commitment to maintaining strong customer service: This transaction will create opportunities for the companies to leverage their combined resources and stronger balance sheet to maintain already strong customer service levels. In addition, the companies will share best practices for customer service and reliability across the combined customer bases.

·      Commitment to jobs and the community: The combined company has committed that there will be no layoffs as a result of the transaction. Any employee reductions related to the merger will be accomplished through attrition and normal retirements from both Great Plains Energy and Westar Energy. Following close, the company will maintain a strong workforce across its operations. This includes maintaining Westar Energy’s customer contact center in Wichita, establishing new walk-in customer service centers in Wichita and Topeka and maintaining operating headquarters in both Kansas City, Missouri, and Topeka, Kansas. Corporate headquarters will remain in Kansas City, Missouri. The company will maintain at least 500 employees in its downtown Topeka headquarters for at least five years after the merger. Given vacancies and natural attrition, the company expects to continue to recruit employees to Topeka to fill jobs. The company will continue to invest corporate resources and employee volunteer hours in its communities while maintaining current levels of charitable giving.

With the Kansas Corporation Commission’s encouragement in its order, the companies continue to work with Kansas regulatory staff and the other parties. They will continue working directly with regulatory staff in both Kansas and Missouri as well as other parties to gain necessary approvals as expeditiously as possible.

The transaction is expected to close in the first half of 2018, subject to the satisfaction of customary closing conditions, including approval by Great Plains Energy’s shareholders and Westar Energy’s shareholders and the receipt of regulatory approvals, including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Missouri Public Service Commission, the KCC, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and clearance under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act.

Goldman Sachs is serving as lead financial advisor to Great Plains Energy. Barclays and Lazard are also serving as financial advisors to Great Plains Energy. Bracewell LLP is serving as legal advisor to Great Plains Energy.

Guggenheim Securities is serving as exclusive financial advisor and Baker Botts L.L.P. is serving as legal advisor to Westar Energy.

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