The intuition behind the new Strategic Plan is that the gas infrastructure of Italgas – which already has a key role in terms of extension and level of penetration – should be strengthened through operating investments, acquisitions and inclusion of new geographical areas to be gained through tenders. At the same time, the network must become ever “smarter” through technological innovation and digitization.
To this purpose, the Plan includes a range of projects that will lead Italgas to invest a total amount of 7.5 billion euros over the 2020-2026 period.
Italgas will thus be able to make a significant contribution to the energy transition path towards decarbonisation that is taking place in Europe. To transport renewable gases, such as biomethane or hydrogen gas networks need to be suitably digitized. Through the storage capacity they provide, gas networks can also represent an effective tool to ensure to the system the flexibility that the increasing use of renewable energy will require.
The Plan has been conceived to create value in a sustainable way. The capital allocation is structured on the basis of investments with visible returns; therefore, strong cash generation, combined with a consolidated financial discipline, will allow Italgas to grow while creating value.
Last but not least, the dividend policy has been designed to allow shareholders to share the benefits of growth.
The new Plan is based on four strategic pillars:
- core business development,
- digital transformation,
- new opportunities,
- and, lastly, financial structure and shareholders’ return.
Across all four pillars, the concept of sustainability is present and deeply integrated.
The challenges generated by the Covid-19 pandemia in this first part of 2020 proved the resilience of Italgas business model, as well as the prompt response to the new operating conditions.
Over the 2020-2026 period, Italgas will put into play a total of 7.5 billion euro investments, of which 2 billion dedicated to ATEM tenders. Those investments will be the growth engine, as they will lead the RAB to exceed 11 billion euro in 2026, with CAGR growth rate of 6.2%. Without considering the impacts of the inclusion of tenders in the consolidation scope, the RAB is expected to grow to 9.8 billion at the end of the seventh year, with a 4% CAGR.
Italgas is firmly committed to the new investment plan, which is 50% larger than that presented four years ago, for the 2017-2023 period.
Organic investments, for a total of 5.5 billion, are structured as follows:
- 06 billion in existing infrastructure, for the extension and maintenance of the network
- 09 billion on digital transformation of networks and processes
- 420 million in the completion of the methanization of Sardinia, expected by 2023
- 360 million in centralized activities, such as ICT and Real Estate
- 370 million in additional perimeter in gas distribution, for M&A and related operating investments
Especially during the months with the strictest restrictions imposed to contain the Covid-19 spread, the Company firmly continued to leverage on two greatly valuable assets, innovation and digitization: competitive advantages in which Italgas continues to inves.
The digital transformation program, which started three years ago, has already brought visible benefits in terms of higher cost-efficiency, also providing better safety and flexibility during the pandemia. Counting on proprietary technologies developed inside its Digital Factory – Gas Leakage Detection, ShareView and WorkonSite – Italgas ensured continuity and safety of essential services in all the municipalities served. Moreover, in early May, the Company restarted works in several construction sites supported by its WorkOnSite App which allows, among other things, for remote verification of conformity of work-in-progress.
Generally, the wide use of digital tools by all employees, made it possible to move all employees to smart work modality while guaranteeing safety of people and security of data and information.
Over the Plan’s period, Italgas will invest in these new opportunities around 240 million euro, of which:
- 120 million in the water distribution sector, in which Italgas Acqua already serves the Caserta municipality and five additional municipalities in its province. The goal for Italgas is to leverage its knowledge of business regulation, expertise of network management, and investment capacity to digitize the networks.
- 100 million in the Energy Efficiency industry, where Italgas is already active through two ESCos, Seaside and Toscana Energia Green. In the future, the two ESCos will be even more integrated, in order to position themselves among the leading Italian operators, including in the residential sector.
- Realisation of a pilot power to gas project using excess renewables energy to roduce hydrogen in collaboration with industrial partners, the Polytechnic of Turin and the University of Cagliari
In recent years, Italgas has developed a solid track record, as it proved to successfully reduce operating costs year after year while executing a number of well-targeted initiatives. From now on, Italgas expects to achieve new levels of efficiency by leveraging the benefits deriving from technological innovation and digitization. Through the transformation underway, it expects to be able achieve total benefits of approximately 210 million euro over the Plan’s period, with an improvement of 50 million euro compared to the savings estimates of the previous Plan, leveraging on reduction of operating costs, optimization of investments and higher revenues.
More in detail, over the Plan, Italgas intends to fully offset the negative impact of the X factor set by the Regulator at challenging levels. The unit cost reduction per redelivery point may be even more significant as new tenders are won, as Italgas will be able to leverage increasing economies of scale and optimized geographical distribution of the network, with benefits that will more than compensate the negative impact expected from higher costs associated with concessions.
Today Italgas has an optimal financial structure, with the Net Debt-to-RAB ratio around 60%, the FFO-to-Net Debt ratio slightly higher than 15%, a cost of debt of c.1%, and a weight of fixed-rate debt around 97%.
The objective is to keep this virtuous picture intact over the Plan’s period, so as to continue to also benefit from rating metrics in the area of solid investment grade.
The Net Debt-to-RAB ratio is expected to remain constantly well below 70%. Moreover, during the Plan’s period, Italgas expects Operating Cash Flow to fully cover organic capital expenditure and dividend distribution, with the FFO-to-Net Debt ratio remaining well above 10%. Considering the yield to maturity of Italgas’ debt, there also appears to be headroom for further reductions in the cost of debt, including through sustainable financial instruments.
The new dividend policy for the 2020-2023 four-year period provides that shareholders receive a dividend equal to the higher of:
- A minimum base of 0.256 euro, corresponding to the amount of the dividend per share distributed for the financial year 2019, increased by 4% per year, and
- 65% of adjusted earnings per share.
Italgas therefore renews its commitment to an attractive, growing and sustainable remuneration.