FILE PHOTO: The logo of US conglomerate General Electric is pictured at the company's site of its energy branch in Belfort
By David French
(Reuters) - General Electric Co is exploring a sale of its 50 percent stake in a renewable energy joint venture with Italy's Enel SpA, the latest deal GE CEO Lawrence Culp is pursuing to pay down debt, according to people familiar with the matter.
Culp has made a new push to shed assets since taking over as CEO in October, culminating in a $21.4 billion deal last month to sell GE's biopharma business to Danaher Corp.
The joint venture, called EGPNA Renewable Energy Partners, was formed in late 2016 between Enel's U.S.-based renewables subsidiary, Enel Green Power North America (EGPNA) and GE Energy Financial Services. It could be valued at more than $1 billion, excluding debt, according to the sources.
GE has hired an investment bank to assist it in selling its stake, the sources said. Among the joint venture's assets are the Cimarron Bend wind farm in Kansas and the Lindahl wind farm in North Dakota.
The sources spoke on condition of anonymity as the information is confidential. A spokeswoman for GE Energy Financial Services declined to comment. Enel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
GE Energy Financial Services has been selling down its portfolio under a plan to reduce those holdings to about $5 billion by the end of 2019 from $10 billion in 2017. GE sold pieces last year to Starwood Property Trust Inc and Apollo Global Management.
The Boston-based conglomerate slashed its dividend last year as it took massive asset writedowns and huge insurance charges. Its debt stood at $121 billion at the end of December.
Renewable energy assets and stakes in firms operating them have been in high demand from buyout firms and infrastructure funds, given the steady yields they generate at a time when global interest rates remain near historical lows.
While the sale effort is focused on GE's stake, Enel could also offload part of its holding, the sources added.
Any partial divestment by Enel would be dependent on the utility retaining operational control over the assets in the portfolio, one of the sources said.
(Reporting by David French in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)