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U.S. Geothermal (NYSEMKT:HTM)

Q4 2012 Earnings Call

March 28, 2013 1:00 pm ET

Executives

Daniel J. Kunz - Co-Founder, Chief Executive Officer and Director

Analysts

Jared Alexander - Canaccord Genuity, Research Division

Aram Fuchs - Fertilemind Capital

MacMurray D. Whale - Cormark Securities Inc., Research Division

Operator

Greetings, and welcome to the U.S. Geothermal's 2012 Year-End Results Conference Call. [Operator Instructions] As a reminder, this conference is being recorded. It is now my pleasure to introduce your host, Daniel Kunz, CEO of U.S. Geothermal. Thank you, Mr. Kunz. You may begin.

Daniel J. Kunz

Thank you, operator, and thank you to everyone joining the call this morning. This is the year-end financial statements for a short year. We have a 9-month year instead of a 12-month due to an accounting change. So I just wanted to point that out right away, that normally in the past, we had March 31 as our year-end. But we've now changed that to the calendar year-end, December 31. So this will be a short period, and then for next year, of course, will be a full 12 months for 2013, following the calendar year.

I'm going to take some time to go through the balance sheet, the statement of operations and the statements of cash flow and direct your attention to a few items, point out a few elements in the notes that are important. And then I'll be happy to entertain any questions you may have. We can also hopefully entertain the questions by the -- through the website if -- I think we've got that working. Last time, we did not.

So I'm going to start with the consolidated balance sheet. I think what you'll note, compared to all of our previous ones, is that we're really reaching an important threshold in this company of achieving a strong balance sheet, cash flow generated from operations for the first time in this fourth quarter of 2012 calendar year. And you can see the effects of that as we start to go through these numbers.

Our current cash and cash equivalents is $12.9 million, and we have a restricted cash of nearly $3 million, putting us at about $15 million on cash. We continue to have normal trade accounts receivable. You'll see those there. They substantially increased, but they are normal now compared to the comparative period last time. That's because we now have all 3 plants running. This will be a typical size number for our trade accounts. This is the normal cash flow trade difference between our receivables and payables. So as we have receivables coming in, also, I'll point out, payables down below under current liabilities.

I wanted to draw your attention to the grant proceeds receivable under Note 4. That's a number, $42.9 million, that is specifically made up of the Neal Hot Springs ITC cash grant and the Neal Hot Springs State of Oregon business enterprise tax credit. And those 2 -- the original estimate of the ITC cash grant was $35.5 million. The BETC, as we call it, B-E-T-C grant, is $7.4 million. So if you add those 2 together, you get the $42.9 million. We've recently announced that we received notice that we're going to be paid the ITC portion, but it was subject to the sequestration of $8.7 million -- sorry, 8.7%, which works out to about $3.1 million. So these numbers will be -- reflect that in the next statement when we have the actual funds received, and the adjustment will be made to account for that sequestration.

The other item I would point out on the asset portion of the balance sheet is the current property, plant and equipment. What you'll see, if you look at Page 12, there's a note there that itemizes it in detail. But the basis of our capital, so our plant and equipment, will be reduced by these cash grants. So as the cash grants are received, the basis -- the capital basis is then reduced. And from that reduced position, we start our depreciation accounts. So that's why that, in fact, went down compared to the previous quarter. And those details are contained, as I said, in Note 6 on Page 12 of the financials.

I'll draw your attention next to the current liabilities. As I said, the accounts payable and accrued liabilities line, that's fairly normal. We've had these numbers fairly stable now for the operations. Construction account payable, we have a short-term portion that then is converted into a long-term loan. So that's what that portion is. The loan is down below under long-term liabilities. I'll talk about that in a minute.

But what I also wanted to point out was this retention payable, Note 16. And if you're looking at the statements you have ,them in front of you, the retention payable was a long-term payable in the previous period of $8.37 million. It's now been moved to a current payable in the most current -- in these most current financials of $8.09 million. Now what that is, these are the retentions we hold in our -- for our construction contractors at Neal Hot Springs and San Emidio. These are the final payments to be paid to the contractors after their retention is net the responsibilities we have under that, and these are payable out of the loan balances that we have. And, in fact, at San Emidio, the settlement there with our contractor included a netting of those retention amounts for that particular contract. And at Neal Hot Springs, the amount is anticipated to be paid out of the final payments from the Department of Energy loan program.

So that's what that is. That'll be moving again to -- down to the long-term liabilities under construction loan once those items are paid. And that is also true of the construction loan payable current portion. We are accruing the current piece that's shown there. And then as we move to a construction loan -- or rather a long-term loan, these are all construction loans currently, and they'll be taken out with long-term loans. Then the long-term liabilities will reflect the actual balance. We're currently at $102 million in construction loans payable, the long-term portion, and that's a combination again of DOE's loan at Neal Hot Springs and the SAIC construction loan at San Emidio.

The other item I would point out on the balance sheet are the number of shares issued and outstanding. That's 101,516,764 shares currently issued and outstanding. I think the other element that you want to look at is the noncontrolling interests. We have added the most resent Enbridge contribution to the line item there. There's a note, Note 17, that describes that in detail. And I'm sure you'll be asking about it at some point will be the equity calculations for Enbridge's interests at Neal Hot Springs. So I'll take a minute and discuss that at the end of this discussion.

As we go to the next statement, which is statement of operations, the income statement, we have pretty strong performance here, particularly as it relates to the most recent 3-month period. And as we stated in our news release this morning, what we have, we've identified the most recent quarter's revenue income and operation cash flow so that you can see that when we have all 3 plants operating, we are generating a net positive income and a net positive cash flow. And this is pretty significant event for our company.

I'll point out just a few things here. As you look at the comparatives for the 9 months, net income from operations was positive at $1.3 million compared to the $4.4 million negative from the last period. We also had a net loss before accumulated changes of $1.9 million. That's a negative number and compared to the previous period of $11 million loss. So the losses have dramatically reduced. And as I said, if you look at just the most recent quarter, that turns into a net income of nearly $750,000. So we're very pleased with the prospects of having all 3 plants operating, turning in revenues and income. And what'll eventually flow out of this will be the opportunity to show you these kinds of numbers, including our interest payments and our EBITDA-type calculations so you can see what those look like.

I'd point out the comprehensive loss attributable to U.S. Geothermal. Again, what we do on this statement is that we remove or account for these noncontrolling interests. That's large of the equity interest of Enbridge at the Neal Hot Springs site, as well as the adjustments for our Raft River account.

So I'll move on next to the cash flow. We have a statement of cash flow there. I'll just point out a few things. Again, for this 9-month period, we have under the investing activity accounted for San Emidio's cash grant. The proceeds of that grant are shown there. That's the $10.784 million. That particular cash grant also was increased. We received another $1 million recently. So the next financial quarter will show that change. What we then have, if you go through some of the other financing activities on the balance sheet -- sorry, on the statement of cash flow, you can see the effects of offering we did under the financing activities, $5.4 million. You can see the next line is a $7 million entry. That was the contribution Enbridge made to fund the contingency account at Neal, and that's the point of our final adjustments and calculations with the Enbridge equity.

You can also see the principal payment of a bridge loan, that minus $7.5 million. That was the Ares loan that we repaid out of the proceeds of the cash grant from the ITC calculations or cash grants that were made for the 1603 grant that was made at San Emidio. The rest of it is pretty straightforward.

I would like to take a minute and talk about the Enbridge calculation. What we're intending to do with that is, once we have everything completed with the Department of Energy construction loan, and then that'll eventually convert into a term loan, we'll have the numbers for them that'll be finalized and allow us to run the calculation with our partner. We've done some preliminary work. And depending on how the proceeds of the cash grants are distributed, the equity interest of Enbridge is somewhere between 30% and 40% of the project. And so we are anxious to be able to complete that calculation and provide our shareholders with an understanding of that number. So when we complete all that, which is probably likely going to be in another quarter, we'll certainly advise everyone of that.

Okay. So operator, I'd like to turn it over to you for a Q&A now and be happy to take your questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Our first question comes from Jared Alexander with Canaccord Genuity.

Jared Alexander - Canaccord Genuity, Research Division

Dan, I'm just wondering if I can ask you a little bit more here about the treasury grant for Neal Hot Springs. The 8.7% reduction, is there -- I guess, do you have any recourse? Do you have any way to get that back? Or does it disappear now? Or do you get paid when the fiscal situation improves?

Daniel J. Kunz

That's a good question, Jared. And I think the short answer would be that we're not sure how that'll come out when the sequestration occurs. There's still a possibility of it being restored based on Congress being able to get a budget put together that would reach back to the beginning of March and allow them to perhaps remove the sequestration funds that they collected and fund those shortfalls in another manner. So as of right now, we're not certain what the outcome will be, and I guess we're just treating it as if we're not going to be able to see that extra $3 million. But if there is a change, of course, we are entitled to it. And the grant actually was for the full $35.5 million. So the sequestration is an act that occurred after the grant was -- of the full amount was made to us -- or the award.

Jared Alexander - Canaccord Genuity, Research Division

Right. Okay. All right. I'm just wondering if you can remind me on the Oregon credit here as well. Is this actually a cash payment? Or is this a tax credit?

Daniel J. Kunz

This is actually a tax credit, Jared. So what it is though is that the State of Oregon has put the program into place some years ago, and we qualified for it a few years back. And what we have done is engaged a firm to find a buyer for the credit, and that buyer would actually pay us cash for it. And those rates, the value of the credit, have been set by the Oregon State Legislature. So they're not subject to any kind of marketing or negotiations or some sort of scalping, if you will. And so the value is already predetermined. We're working with a group to find the appropriate buyer for the credit.

Jared Alexander - Canaccord Genuity, Research Division

Okay, great. And then just maybe, finally, if we can turn to Guatemala. I was just wondering what you think we're going to see in 2013, I guess, in terms of activity but also potentially, I guess, in development expenses related to Guatemala.

Daniel J. Kunz

Yes, Guatemala, we have currently some work underway right now on the ground, getting things ready for reentering or, actually, drilling a well nearby one of the existing wells there. We've done some geophysics. We've done some prep of the ground. We've put in a small facility down there on the property. And all of that work is underway. The geophysics report was just received. And it's likely that we're talking about allocating around $1 million for Guatemala this year to do the work of really confirming the 1 well that we have targeted as the most -- the highest potential for a strong production scenario. And then thereafter, we would move quickly. We're looking for -- we're working with the groups to develop a partnership, an equity partner who would help move it to the next level. We've continued to work on the PPA. That's being drafted. As you may know, we have a signed MOU. It's an attractive arrangement for us. It's a very attractive power price that we're working with on a 15-year contract. So we're anxious to get that, then we'll see some of that perhaps completed this year. So I think, overall, if we have the year that we have planned, that we'll probably have a production well confirmed at Guatemala by the end of this year.

Operator

Our next question comes from Eric Wu with Fertilemind Capital.

Aram Fuchs - Fertilemind Capital

This is actually Aram, Aram Fuchs from Fertilemind Capital. Can you talk about the -- you had mentioned previous -- a takeout financing for San Emidio. Did I miss that in the opening comments? How is that proceeding?

Daniel J. Kunz

Yes, the takeout financing for San Emidio is proceeding well. What the issues relate to is completing the -- all of the conditions precedent to a close. There's a list of items there. But the principal one that we've determined could be the pacing item is we're working on a permit to allow us a different discharge technique than the one we currently have. We filed for that permit, and there's a public period involved. So it's likely to be about a 60-day time frame. The lender -- the long-term lender wants that in hand before funding. There are a few other issues. We're going through a planned outage on April 9. That's the normal one that's scheduled every year. And during that, we've got a few other things we're going to be doing to the plant in order to achieve the maximum output that the plant can do at this time. There's a few items on the list of a valve here, an item there, some cable issues that we have sorted out. And then there's also some control adjustments we want to make to the software that runs the machine. So given all that, after the shutdown is over and we have it up and running, we'll go through comparing the plant output to our financial model. And once we sign off on a financial model with our prospective lender, then we'll work toward closing, which right now is likely to be in June.

Aram Fuchs - Fertilemind Capital

Okay. Okay, and then now with the 3 plants running, the budget for Guatemala there and financial close on San Emidio in sight, cash should start piling up at the parent company over the next few quarters. I'm curious, what are your plans for that?

Daniel J. Kunz

Well, the cash that's being generated now will be definitely used to carefully look at our development pipeline. Obviously, Guatemala is one of them. And then we're also keeping a real sharp eye on a second unit at San Emidio. We haven't made a decision there yet, but what we have in place there is pretty significant. We've got an existing PPA, which in this market, that's one of the most important items to have. It's a valuable asset. That PPA for the first unit allows for a second unit. We can actually go up to nearly 20 megawatts of output from that site. We also have adequate transmission to get at least a second unit in there of some size, and we've got excellent results from our exploration program that would lead us to a second unit. We've also been working with a group on funding the equity portion of the second unit, and that's in place. So what we're looking for using some of our cash this year would be to do some additional well confirmation, develop at least a single production well that would be allocated to the second unit in some areas in the North and then that would allow us to access the other capital. So given all of that, we would -- of course, our existing corporate overhead, we would be utilizing a portion of the cash generated this year. Obviously, the question at some point is, when would we start paying something like a dividend? And that's something, I think, that's on the mind of our board members. We definitely want to encourage that kind of thinking. It would not be this year, but it is definitely something that we would want to consider at the right time and kind of utilize some of the cash flow from operations to do that.

Aram Fuchs - Fertilemind Capital

Okay, great. Yes, I would -- I think that would – you've got your neck ahead of the other geothermal horses, so to speak. By getting these 3 plants up and running, I think that would sort of solidify your lead being the first junior geothermal to issue a dividend in due course, of course, when it's time, but I think that would be impactful.

Daniel J. Kunz

Yes, I think we agree with that, and it's something we'll keep a careful eye on and consider very carefully at the appropriate time. But as I say, I think we have some opportunities for growth that our other peers don't have by virtue of having these PPAs in place and having resource identified. It's not confirmed fully yet, but these are far more advanced stage development opportunities than -- well, actually, than we've had in the past in our company. So we've got an excellent pipeline in front of us, and we want to make sure that we can make the right choices on developing those.

Aram Fuchs - Fertilemind Capital

And the gaining factor for that San Emidio is still the definition of when the ITC defines in service or in construction? I forgot the exact phrase.

Daniel J. Kunz

Well, the way that ITC works down there at San Emidio and for any project that initiates construction before the end of this year, then you have no end date on when it has to come on line. So it could -- it means you're going to have an artificial deadline to have it on line before 18 months. And if you run into issues with construction and things like that, you could potentially, in the past, lose access to the credit. So they modified that rule, and now you need only be under construction before the end of this year. And construction is defined as the continuous process that includes developing wells. So we initiate a production well this year and then stay on a course to construct it. We'll have no artificial deadline on that tax credit. Now the other piece of this, though, Aram, is the challenge that we have as well is to find an appropriate monetization technique for that tax credit, be it a structured partnership, a flip structure like we're familiar with elsewhere or something like that. And that's the second challenge we have after we define this resource is we're going to be working on that aspect.

Operator

Our next question comes from Mac Whale with Cormark Securities.

MacMurray D. Whale - Cormark Securities Inc., Research Division

I just wanted to go back to Guatemala. In terms of project debt for that, have financing discussions been taking place?

Daniel J. Kunz

No. Financing discussions are currently centered on the equity side of it. We have made some preliminary investigations on debt for Guatemala. Generally speaking, we're talking about listing interested parties, having very broad discussions with them. I had a brief meeting this week on that topic of a bank that's already involved in the geothermal project in Central America, who we will be approaching. But the priority will be to get our equity in order first and then proceed with the debt.

MacMurray D. Whale - Cormark Securities Inc., Research Division

Okay. And then looking at the PPA, it seems somewhat short for geothermal. Would that have an impact on -- or what sort of impact do you think it will have on returns and all of that?

Daniel J. Kunz

Well, that's a good question because most of our PPAs are 20 and 25 years in length, and having a 15-year term on it would normally be a concern. But when we run our preliminary models, what we find is that the revenue, the sales price of the power is high enough. It's going to be a significantly higher number than we have had any time in our past. And therefore, it's adequate to support the retirement of the project loan over a 15-year period.

MacMurray D. Whale - Cormark Securities Inc., Research Division

Okay. And is that PPA all sort of a firm power price? Or is there some sort of market element exposure in there?

Daniel J. Kunz

It is a firm price, but the other piece of it is that it's a fixed price. So it's fixed over the 15-year period.

MacMurray D. Whale - Cormark Securities Inc., Research Division

Okay. Okay, so they're looking at sort of considering like a levelized price in terms of the buyer, right? Their rationale for putting the price higher, high enough to get it financed from your perspective, is they're looking at higher rising prices over that period. Is that...

Daniel J. Kunz

That's exactly right. And I guess the only other open piece on that is that we do retain the carbon -- the potential value of the carbon credits. And so those are open to discussion about their market value and who would buy them and so on, and we have the right to market those. So to the extent that, that has a value in the future, we'll be able to accrue that to the project account.

MacMurray D. Whale - Cormark Securities Inc., Research Division

And are you referring to the carbon credits under the UN -- the CDM process?

Daniel J. Kunz

That's right.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Our next question comes from Larry Shield [ph], a private investor.

Unknown Shareholder

I actually had a couple of questions unrelated. The first one is, I was wondering how you would assess the political risk in Guatemala?

Daniel J. Kunz

Okay. As far as Guatemala political risk goes, we've looked at where our company should be going for these kinds of developments. And you can take a good look around the globe and see quite a number of places that are open for business in Geothermal development have quite a bit of activity, but we were uncomfortable going too far afield, let's say, Kenya or even Indonesia is a long way away. But as we look at the situation in Guatemala, what we have is a long-standing working democracy, elections that are handled very -- without any kind of event or any kind of violence and all that, so the election process is working. But more importantly, the U.S. government supports the country. From a political risk insurance standpoint, the project is highly insurable by OPIC or entities like that, OPIC being the Overseas Private Investment Corp., which is an arm of the U.S. government and provides expropriation-style insurance. When you see the ranking the country has in that regard, it's a very attractive place for investment.

Unknown Shareholder

Does that mean that the government would insure the project in the event of an expropriation?

Daniel J. Kunz

That's correct.

Unknown Shareholder

Oh, interesting. That's good to know. My second question, which is completely unrelated, is technical in nature. And I'm looking at the 10-K right now. I'm not sure if you have access to it, but I'll just read the relevant part. This is from Page 11 regarding Neal Hot Springs. It's this 22-net-megawatt power plant, 3 separate 7.33-net-megawatt modules. And then below that, it says the facility achieved net output of 29.8 megawatts during the commissioning. And I'm just wondering what the -- how a 22-net-megawatt power plant could produce 29.8 megawatts.

Daniel J. Kunz

Great question, Larry. And I'm happy to answer that. A 22-net-megawatt power plant, we rate it at that, at Neal for the entire year. And this is an air cool plant. So it's very sensitive to the time of year. During the winter, when the air is cold, the output goes way up, and that's how we got the 29 megawatts you're referring to. During the summer, the opposite is going to be true, and we're going to get something substantially lower. I've forgotten the curves, but you can think of it as like 17, 18 megawatts during the heat of the July, August time frame. So when you plot that curve out and you look at the total output over the year, the machine should do the 22 average. And that's the guidance we're providing our shareholders and investors is that it's somewhere around the 22. We're hoping we'll do better than that, particularly if we can get more output on the shoulders and have a cooler fall and things like that. But we also could have the opposite effect where an extreme summer condition could cut some power production off for us and reduce that output. But that's the interesting nature of these plants is that they're -- the variable output of the production is a direct -- in direct relationship to the temperature of the air. And as a result, the ability for us to -- like if you had a natural gas plant, what you do is just turn up the gas and burn more and then be able to keep your production stable. We have a fixed heat rate into the plant, our well fields only deliver so much heat, and that's that. So we're subject to that variability. But, however, we've got that factored in, and we also have our customer, Idaho Power, aware of that. And we produce rolling forecasts of what we're going to be producing over a 3-month basis.

Operator

Our next question comes from Dan Schmidt [ph], a private investor.

Unknown Shareholder

I was just looking for a little clarification on one of the PRs that was put out on the $33 million cash grant to the Hot Neal Springs. And in it, there's a sentence that says approximately $13.3 million of the grant is expected to pay down the outstanding project loan, with the balance available for distribution to the equity partners. Now does that include the stockholders, something along the lines of a special dividend? I'm just curious.

Daniel J. Kunz

No, Dan. It doesn't, the short answer to your question. That distribution would go to the -- essentially, to Enbridge to help them get the returns they bargained for when they put up the capital over the last 3 capital calls, their initial investment and 2 others. And as we return that funds to them, then that results in calculations that allow us to keep their equity interests at the levels I talked about, between 30% and 40%. But my previous discussion about dividends for shareholders would address your concern, and that's sometime in the future. These cash grants have been quite helpful to strengthen the project because, as you mentioned, the $13.3 million estimate that will be used to pay down the project loan means that, that loan is smaller, has a smaller balance. The average interest rate is under 3%. It's about 2.7-some percent. And it's over 22 years. So the less -- the lower the size of the loan, the stronger the cash flows from the project. So it's going to be -- it's a very positive thing, but in terms of the equity distribution, it's definitely going to go to Enbridge and possibly to us.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] There's a follow-up question from Eric Wu from Fertilemind.

Aram Fuchs - Fertilemind Capital

It's Aram Fuchs. I just -- in one of those previous updates, you mentioned doing some due diligence on the solar panels at Neal Hot Springs for the parasitic load. Do you have any update on that?

Daniel J. Kunz

Yes, we've -- we don't have anything reported on solar options today. We do have our partner Enbridge looking at it. They've been working on it with some of their -- they have investments in solar themselves. But as of right now, we have nothing to report. And as soon as we do, we're going to be sharing that with you. But I think at this point, it's still relatively early. And if there is even an opportunity to do that, we can't answer that today. We're not sure that there is. It's for everyone's benefit. We have an idea. Perhaps we can install on the vast land position we have out there and some of our -- some of the solar index out there. And the land package could provide PV power, photovoltaic power, to run our pumps and some of our parasitic load that would therefore reduce the amount of parasitics we have and allow us to export more of the geothermal power to our customer. But that analysis is far from complete, and we're in early stages on it.

Aram Fuchs - Fertilemind Capital

Are you able to give an estimated deadline, timeline of when you'll know to have the go or no go decision on that?

Daniel J. Kunz

I think -- I don't know if I have that. I haven't had a recent update on that topic, Aram, but I would put it no sooner than mid this year. I think we're still looking at several months to receive something from Enbridge on that.

Operator

There are no further questions in queue at this time. I would like to turn the call back over to Mr. Kunz for closing comments.

Daniel J. Kunz

Okay, very good. Well, I'm hoping that there were no questions that were asked online because the last time, we seemed to have a problem with that. I'm going to check my email to make sure that, that's the case but I guess not. And I also wanted to double check the website here for the conference call, and make sure there's no questions online. I don't see any here. So I want to make sure that I've answered everyone's question. I do appreciate your interest in this company, your support. I thank you personally for your diligence and your support of what we're doing here. This has been a long road to get to this point, and we've been through some very difficult markets. But I think -- I hope you recognize that this particular financial report is a major transition in our company, and we hope to make that a sustainable, long-term proposition of generating positive cash flows and incomes out of these plants and then looking for growth opportunities going forward. So thank you again, and we will see you next quarter.

Operator

This concludes today's teleconference. You may disconnect your lines at this time, and thank you for your participation.

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