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Public meeting set for Thursday in New Iberia to discuss Cleco sale

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A New Orleans-based consumer group is holding a public meeting in New Iberia Thursday to discuss the sale of Cleco to a foreign investment group. 

The meeting is being held by the Alliance for Affordable Energy and will take place from 5 - 7 p.m. Thursday at  Cyr-Gates Community Center in City Park, New Iberia. 

Pineville-based Cleco, which serves parts of Acadiana, announced in the fall of 2014 that it had reached a sale agreement with an investment group led by Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets and British Columbia Investment Management Corp., together with John Hancock Financial. The parties agreed to a valuation of $4.7 billion - $3.4 billion in cash and $1.3 billion in assumed debt, according to The Associated Press. 

The Alliance for Affordable Energy maintains that the deal would be "unfair to customers who are at the mercy of the monopoly utility and cannot walk away with golden parachutes like the executives, who stand to gain millions from the sale."

The Alliance also claims that Cleco customers already pay higher rates than other utility customers in Louisiana, and that the sale would only increase utility rates more for customers. Cleco disputes those claims. 

Cleco spokeswoman Robbyn Cooper emailed KATC the following statement in response to the accusations from the Alliance for Affordable Energy: 

"We are disappointed in the Alliance's willingness to make false statements especially since they have been a participant in the regulatory process. The Louisiana Public Service Commission has made sure that Cleco customers will not pay for any of the costs related to the transaction. Cleco customer rates will not increase as a result of this transaction. In fact, Cleco customers will receive $125 million in credits on their bills over the next 15 years if this transaction is approved. We have worked closely with the LSPC and its Staff to make a good deal even better. This transaction is about protecting customers and the communities Cleco serves and positioning us for long-term success."

The sale cannot be finalized until the Louisiana Public Service Commission approves the deal. Pending a recommendation from an administrative law judge, the PSC could vote on the issue at its Feb. 24 meeting, Cooper said.

The Alliance for Affordable Energy sent KATC the following statement in response to CLECO's response: 

"The Alliance for Affordable Energy promotes fair, affordable, environmentally responsible energy. We oppose the Cleco / Macquarie sale because we do not believe it is in the best interest of the good people of Louisiana. Macquarie is a foreign-based investment group. We have released factual information to emphasize that Cleco / Macquarie have gone to great lengths to hide critical facts from the public about serious financial problems of the deal the two companies are attempting - problems that show just how bad the sale of Cleco to Macquarie would be for customers and Louisiana. 
 
In November 2015, Judge Valerie Seal Meiners, administrative law judge, ruled against Cleco / Macquarie's attempts toward secrecy and upheld the public's right to the truth. Cleco / Macquarie's financial schemes were factually established by the Louisiana Public Service Commission's own staff before the court and the public has a right to know. We agree with LPSC staff that the buyout is not in the public's best interest.
 
Additionally, the public should be aware that Cleco's executive team is enormously incentivized to make this sale go through. Bruce Williamson, Cleco's lead executive, will receive $29.7M if Cleco is sold to Macquarie. Cleco's other 5 of the top executives could receive $19.53M (combined total) according to SEC filings for change in control, if the sale goes through."

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