* CEO says company is determined to retain profile
* Book value at 2.87 billion euros ahead of privatisation
* Debt rises to 735 million euros from 415 million euros (Updates with details, background, quote)
AMSTERDAM, March 8 (Reuters) - Dutch energy company Eneco Groep NV, which is preparing for privatisation, on Thursday reported a rise in underlying 2017 sales and profit as well as higher debt due to acquisitions.
In the first real look at its performance after it was forced to split its grid operations in January 2016, Eneco reported net profit from continuing operations of 127 million euros ($158 million), up from 103 million euros in 2016.
Sales rose by 22 percent to 3.36 billion euros mostly due to acquisitions and investment in new wind capacity, the company said in a statement. Debt rose to 735 million euros from 415 million euros as the company borrowed to buy Eni’s Belgian operations and a 50 percent stake in German energy company LichtBlick.
Eneco, which analysts have said could fetch as much as 4 billion euros in a trade sale due to its sustainable energy generation assets, reported a book value of 2.87 billion euros at Dec. 31, falling from 3.12 billion euros on the same date a year earlier.
Eneco’s municipal shareholders voted for privatisation in October, to the dissatisfaction of the company’s management, who wanted to operate as independently as possible and to continue investing heavily in sustainable energy.
After a public clash between shareholders and management that was eventually resolved only by intervention of a mediator, the company’s boards agreed last month to a sale or IPO.
Chief executive Jeroen de Haas said in a statement he is determined that the company retains its pro-sustainable image regardless of the final outcome.
“We understand that the majority of our shareholders wish to privatise Eneco Group and we would like to work together with the remaining and departing shareholders to arrive at an optimal outcome for all stakeholders,” he said.
“Guarantees for the continuation of our sustainable course, and continuity of the company are central issues for us in this process.”
Eneco generated 4.8 million Gigawatt hours of electricity from sustainable sources in 2017, up from 4.7 million. Fossil fuel generation increased to 3.4 million GWh from 3.1 million. ($1 = 0.8064 euros) (Reporting by Toby Sterling; editing by Elaine Hardcastle)