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Financial Focus: Wind, Solar Capex, Led By Nextera, Remains Major Component Of Utility Growth

Despite uncertainties tied to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic downturn that could impact the scope and scale of wind and solar installations nationwide, renewable energy spending remains a significant part of many utility capital expenditure programs as environmental and sustainability considerations continue to influence utility sector investment plans and operational outlooks.

Even without a current federal mandate to reduce carbon emissions for electricity generation in the U.S., many utilities anticipate that decarbonizing will likely occur over the next few decades, and are implementing strategies to reshape their generation fleets through the addition of wind and solar assets, while removing more carbon-intensive assets from their portfolios.

Based on conclusions from our most recent review of company spending plans made available through investor presentations, SEC filings and other sources, renewable energy capital expenditures in our coverage group are projected to reach $14.26 billion in 2020, declining to $10.32 billion in 2021 and to $9.62 billion in 2022. By comparison, our summer 2019 renewable energy capex analysis forecast $11.82 billion of spending in 2020 and $9.62 billion of renewables capex in 2021.

As a percentage of total company capex over the 2020-2022 period, ALLETE Inc.'s forecast renewables expenditures account for 49% of spending, followed by NextEra at 43%, MGE Energy Inc. at 36% and Otter Tail Corp. at 36%. At the lower end, PNM Resources Inc., Sempra Energy and Public Service Enterprise Group Inc.'s planned renewable spending account for between 1%-2% of the companies' capex budgets between 2020 and 2022.

NextEra Energy Inc., again by a significant margin, has the largest projected capex dedicated to renewables. Other utilities with large renewables capex are Avangrid Inc., Duke Energy Corp. and Xcel Energy Inc. We caution, however, that disclosure of planned spending is not uniform throughout the utility sector and not all companies, such as Dominion Energy Inc. and Southern Co., provide the level of detail that specifies the projected capex dedicated to renewable energy projects.

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