Total to buy a $1 billion, 60 percent, stake in SunPower

Oil giant buy majority share of one of solar's biggest playersOil giant Total (CAC: TOTF.PA) and SunPower (Nasdaq: SPWRA, SPWRB) said yesterday (April 28) that they reached a buyout agreement under which Total will become SunPower’s majority stockholder and invest $1 billion in SunPower, a photovoltaic manufacturer and developer. The deal is big news for the entire solar industry, as SunPower is one of the leading solar companies in the world.

SunPower held an investor conference today (April 29) explaining the deal in more detail and how it will benefit the company. The $1 billion credit agreement will help SunPower to grow its business at a faster pace, SunPower CEO Tom Werner said during the event.

“We plan to accelerate our growth plans in the increasingly competitive solar market,” he said.

The deal hasn’t closed yet, said SunPower CFO Dennis Arriola. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and European Union antitrust authorities must still evaluate the deal, he said.

If approved, stockholders will be offered $23.25 per share, an overvaluation of 46 percent for class A shares and 49 percent for class B shares as of closing on April 27.

“We expect it [i.e., the tender offer] to open within 10 business days,” Arriola said. The offer will be open for at least 20 days. The companies still have to submit the tender offer to the SEC.

The deal will improve SunPower’s access to lower-cost capital to finance projects, according to Werner.

“First, it’s making available up to $400 million [in cash for projects],” he said. It’s also going to help the company make capital investment to scale production faster and speed up SunPower’s cost-reduction roadmap.

Total developed the structure so that despite owning the majority of SunPower, the company will still be traded on Nasdaq and will still retain its identity.

“They thought of a structure that allowed fast, nimble decision making, at the same, time capitalizing on a top 20 in the world balance sheet,” he said.

SunPower’s project pipeline for the next five years is up to 10 gigawatts, Werner said.

“We looked at how best to finance that. We did an extensive search of what we thought were viable options, strategically and financially,” he said.

The news was hailed as positive by investors and even competitors like Abound Solar.

“I think you’re seeing the beginning of these major companies recognizing that solar photovoltaics are going to be a central source of energy for the future,” said Russ Kanjorski, vice president of marketing at Abound. “They clearly want a part of that and want it to be part of their mix.”

“When you see companies like General Electric making major moves forward—and others like Total, BP Solar, Chevron, it’s indicative of the coming of age of solar photovoltaics as a major energy source,” Kanjorski said. “If you want to be mainstream and make a significant impact—you need these big players. Even a company like SunPower needs help to get the financing."