UPDATE 2-Iberdrola to sell French wind parks to cut debt

Mon Dec 31, 2012 5:27am EST

* Deal is part of debt-cutting drive

* Strategy aimed at keeping investment credit rating

* Polish, U.S. asset sales could follow - sources

By Sarah Morris

MADRID, Dec 31 (Reuters) - Spanish utility Iberdrola is selling its French wind park unit to a consortium including General Electric for about 400 million euros ($529 million) in its drive to cut debt and keep an investment grade credit rating.

The world's largest operator of wind farms said in October it would sell some of its operations, slash investment and cut its workforce over the next two years in order to reduce debt by 6 billion euros to 26 billion by 2014.

Iberdrola is one of several Spanish firms, including Telefonica and Repsol, battling to avoid the big credit downgrades that have hit the cash-strapped Spanish government and which make borrowing harder, and more costly.

In a statement to the stock exchange regulator on Monday, Iberdrola said Iberdrola Renovables France (IBRF), which directly or indirectly controls 32 wind parks, would be sold to a consortium. The unit's offshore assets will be transferred to a separate entity before the sale.

Once the deal is completed, General Electric will own 40 percent of the unit and MEAG, the asset manager of German insurer Munich Re, another 40 percent. EDF Energies Nouvelles, the renewable unit of France's EDF, will own the remaining 20 percent.

The total installed capacity of the French onshore wind farms is 321.4 megawatts.

Iberdrola said the deal involved an initial payment of 350 million euros and an additional payment of 50 million euros subject to conditions.

At 0956 GMT Iberdrola shares were down 1.3 percent at 4.08 euros.

Some analysts think Iberdrola could cut its dividend to preserve its coveted investment credit rating if the Spanish government fails to pay it back in full for years of selling power at regulated prices..

S&P left Iberdrola's rating at just one notch above junk in November, citing concerns the government could delay repaying power companies the deficit of up to 24 billion euros they have racked up from selling electricity at a loss.

The French deal comes after the utility announced on Friday the sale of 20 percent of its stake in the Medgaz pipeline, running between Algeria and Spain, for 146 million euros.

A source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters earlier this month Iberdrola was close to a deal to sell renewable energy assets in Poland for about 200 million euros .

It had also received offers for 10 wind parks in the United States, said another source with knowledge of the matter.

On Saturday Bolivia nationalised two electricity distribution companies owned by Iberdrola. The companies contribute less than 1 percent of profit to the utility.

A couple walks along the rough surf during sunset at Oahu's North Shore, December 26, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Find your dream retirement town

Florida? Hawaii? Reuters has teamed up with Zillow to give you the power to customize a list of your best places to retire.  Video | Full Article