In the REIT-ification of Everything, a Yieldco Offers Green Profits

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Any asset with regular, predictable income can be turned into a high-income security.

We first saw this with Real Estate Investment Trusts, or REITs. What began over 50 years ago with commercial real estate, has now spread deep into the general economy.

You can now buy REITs on many things besides shopping centers. You can buy REITs that own nursing homes, hotels, homes, even cell phone towers. And now the concept is spreading into renewable energy in what's called a "yieldco."

I have identified six such companies, most of which have gone public on U.S. markets just since the start of 2013. From oldest to youngest they are:

  • Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners (BEP), first offered in September 2009
  • Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure (HASI), which went public in June 2013
  • NRG Yield (NYLD), which came public in September 2013
  • Pattern Energy Group (PEGI), which came public at the end of September 2013
  • Abengoa Yield  (ABY), which went public during June
  • NextEra Energy Partners (NEP), which went public at the end of June

These are all master limited partnerships run by a controlling entity, specifically another public company. They are similar in structure to pipeline firms such as Kinder Morgan (KMI), which controls a 6.88% dividend play called Kinder Morgan Partners (KMP), or an oil partnership like BreitBurn Energy Partners (BBEP), recently paying a dividend of 9.3%. Your payout is determined by the quality of the assets bought by the managing entity, and their ability to extract profits for dividends.

This is one of the things that makes green energy yieldcos so attractive. Your dividend isn't based on fast-changing oil and gas prices. The asset is already "in the ground," producing energy for sale to utilities.

But you do still have to depend on the management focusing on what you want it to. NRG Yield's portfolio includes some natural gas plants. Abengoa owns transmission lines in South America. The specific choice of assets and patterns of investment by the company managing the yieldco can change, and with them, your yield and its green credibility.

In all these cases the aim is the same. By spinning out productive assets, the sponsors are able to raise new capital with which they can build more projects. If one of the aims of your investment is to improve the outlook for green energy you can feel good on that score as well.

Right now the supply of such stocks well exceeds the demand, so income is taking a back seat to capital gains on these issues. Yieldcos are hot, and investors are bidding their prices higher, driving down their yields but delivering some serious gains as well.

BEP is up 77% since coming to market in 2009 and still sports a 5.44% yield. HASI is up almost 21% from its April 2013 offering and currently yields 6.88%. Since going public in July 2013, NYLD is up 88% in price, one reason why its current yield of 2.66% looks low. PEGI is up 37% since coming public last September and has a yield of 4.04%.

The jury is still out on some of these plays because they have just gone public. ABY is down in price from its June offering and has yet to pay a dividend. NEP also came to market in June, and is up 6%, but it has yet to announce a dividend, either.

The outlook for investors looking for pre-tax income has seldom been brighter. The financial structure for spinning out wind and solar energy production assets is now established and the outlook for these investments looks bright. A yieldco also delivers capital that can help increase renewable energy supplies in the future, so if you also care about leaving a planet fit for your grandchildren to live on here's a way to do it.

At the time of publication the author owned no shares in companies mentioned in this story.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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