NTR risks blowback over plan to invest in European wind farms

Any bid to push through deal before moves on US assets could spark shareholder action

Chief executive Rosheen McGuckian said the company was committed to pressing ahead with its plan for investing in EU wind assets. Photograph: Frank Miller

Chief executive Rosheen McGuckian said the company was committed to pressing ahead with its plan for investing in EU wind assets. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

After 2½ hours of rancour at Thursday’s annual general meeting, NTR chairman Tom Roche and his fellow board members can be in no doubt about the dissent within shareholder ranks over its strategy.

There were eight speakers from the floor at the agm and all of them registered their dissatisfaction at the company’s recent performance and its plans to spend €50 million of their money on pursuing additional wind farm projects in Europe.

One51, which owns 23.6 per cent of NTR, and Pageant Holdings, which has a near 10 per cent stake, were the most forceful in their opposition to this plan while also pressing the top table for assurances that they will follow through on selling the company’s US wind assets.

Roche told the meeting that he expects to receive a report from “expert advisers” on strategic options for the US assets “later in the autumn”.

He said a formal sales process might then “commence” for the US wind assets “subject of course to achieving a satisfactory price and terms”.

Such language allowed Roche to navigate his way through the agm storm but it also provided sufficient wriggle room to fudge the issue.

Ideally, One51 and Pageant want advisers for a sales process to be appointed in the next couple of weeks with a view to a deal being wrapped up by March. They are concerned that any time delay by the company could results in it missing out on the current bubble for wind assets in the US.

After the meeting, NTR chief executive Rosheen McGuckian, pictured, said the company was committed to pressing ahead with its plan for investing in EU wind assets. She has hinted that the first deal is likely to be on the island of Ireland with an announcement “imminent”.

Again, One51 and Pageant will be following developments here closely. The shareholder groups want to cash out of their investments in NTR by selling the US wind assets followed by a tender offer for shares by Woodford Capital, an investment vehicle controlled by Roche and his family and NTR’s biggest shareholder.

Woodford supports the EU wind strategy and it held talks in recent months with One51 and Pageant to try and knock out a compromise arrangement that could satisfy their different positions.

It included One51 and Pageant allowing an wind investment in the EU in advance of the sale of the US assets up to a cap of €11 million. Those talks eventually broke down.

On Thursday, One51 called for a separate meeting of shareholders to be held to allow them decide if the company should pursue its EU wind strategy. “Your request is not on the agenda,” Roche told the One51 representative Barry Devereux, adding that he should put it in writing to the board after which it would get “due consideration” and he would “receive a response”.

It remains to be seen how this plays out but there is a growing sense that any attempt by the company to push through its EU wind investment in advance of clear moves on the sale of the US assets could be the catalyst for the disaffected shareholders to seek relief from the High Court.

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