Canadian renewable power producer Boralex Inc. has named a new chief executive officer as the company pushes ahead with an aggressive growth strategy in an industry picking up momentum.
Patrick Decostre, Boralex’s chief operating officer, will take over as CEO from Patrick Lemaire on Dec. 1, the Montreal-based company said in a statement on Wednesday. Mr. Lemaire is retiring from full-time work and will join the Boralex board.
“Our financial objectives remain the same, but increasing efforts will be asked to our teams in order to accelerate our growth,” Mr. Decostre said on a conference call with analysts and investors.
Governments in the European Union and elsewhere intend to make green energy part of their COVID-19 economic recovery plans, and “we need to grab our fair share of these opportunities,” he said.
Hatched as a natural gas co-generation plant by paper products manufacturer Cascades, Boralex under Mr. Lemaire has turned from a small regional player with $43-million in annual profit and a stock market value of $312-million in 2006 to a sizable energy producer with $492-million in earnings and a share capitalization of $4.3-billion. The company has wind, solar, hydroelectric and thermal energy facilities in Europe and North America that can produce just over 2,000 megawatts of power.
Mr. Decostre takes control at a pivotal time for the renewable power industry as technological innovations that drive down production costs make it more economically viable. Major institutional investors are increasing their holdings in the sector, and big oil producers are joining the rush to diversify their production capabilities.
As the corporate world starts to embrace solutions to climate change, investments tied to renewable energy are producing the sort of growth that is hard to ignore, and supporting hefty dividends. The S&P Global Clean Energy Index of 30 stocks – which includes Canadian Solar Inc. as well as Toronto Stock Exchange-listed Boralex and Innergex Renewable Energy Inc. – posted a one-year return of about 93 per cent through Tuesday.
Mr. Decostre was the first employee Boralex hired in France, and spent 18 years building the company’s footprint there, particularly in wind power. He was promoted to vice-president and chief operating officer in March of last year, and then moved to Montreal, where he helped engineer the company’s current five-year strategic plan.
“It appeared to be almost a certainty that he would be selected as the next CEO in our view,” Desjardins Securities analyst Bill Cabel said in a research note. “While Mr. Decostre has some big shoes to fill given Mr. Lemaire’s success in growing Boralex to where it is today, he has been well-groomed and is more than ready to take [the company] to the next level.”
Boralex’s strategic plan to 2023 includes increasing its capabilities in solar power and energy storage and winning new corporate customers. In addition to selling renewable energy to utilities such as BC Hydro and New York Independent System Operator Inc. through long-term contracts, the company is also signing up a small but growing list of private-sector clients such as French telecom company Orange Group.
Boralex and Orange in July signed a deal for the Canadian company to supply Orange with 67 gigawatt hours a year of renewable electricity from the Ally-Mercoeur wind farm in France’s Auvergne Rhône-Alpes region. Orange, which says it wants to achieve sustainable networks as the volume of its data transmissions grows, is buying the farm’s entire output.
Among Boralex’s financial objectives is to more than double discretionary cash flow to at least $140-million by 2023. It also wants to increase its energy capacity by 44 per cent, to 2,800 megawatts, and maintain a payout ratio of 40 per cent to 60 per cent. Payout ratio is a measure of the total amount of dividends paid relative to net income.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Lemaire said that, in hindsight, his team should have made more acquisitions in previous years. However, Mr. Decostre characterized Boralex’s future, and that of renewables more generally, as bright. Pension-fund giant Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec bought a 17.3-per-cent stake in the company in 2017.
“When we really started the first wind project at Boralex, I can tell you that it was a little bit rock and roll," Mr. Decostre said. “Today, it’s not the same. It’s bigger. Projects are more volume but probably [with lower returns]. In the end, we can do something great with the market we have in front of us.”
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