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Generator demand surges as PG&E customers struggle to keep lights on

Jason Schott

While investors in bankrupt California utility Pacific Gas & Electric worry about losing their money and customers grapple with brownouts intended to reduce wildfire risk, one maker of backup generators is benefiting from the upheaval.

Stock in Generac Holdings, which supplies power generators for residential, light commercial and industrial markets, surged nearly 10 percent on Wednesday as more than 700,000 people affected by the public-safety outage sought alternatives

For the week, Generac rose $4.49 to close at $82.49, and it's one of the best performers of the year.

Generac, based in Wisconsin, is the largest seller of backup home-electricity generators in the U.S. The company estimates that it sells more than 75 percent of all residential generators in the country and as much as 30 percent of portable generators.

The firm began advertising in California after news that PG&E will manage wildfire risk during its bankruptcy by shutting down power in dry, hot and windy weather. Generac is expecting the Golden State to add $100 million to the company’s revenues by 2023.

The business provides the “best growth outlook in U.S. machinery by a country mile,” wrote Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Ross Gilardi. “California was never much of an addressable market for Generac because of the absence of major power-outage events, but that has all completely changed.”

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In the second quarter of this year, Generac reported earnings of $1.20 per share, beating Wall Street estimates, and sales of $541.92 million.

Climate change is expected to make extreme weather more common, which will put more pressure on utilities to maintain their grids, and increase demand for backup power sources.

PG&E stock closed on Friday at $8.02, down $2.85 for the week, On Friday, the utility turned down a $2.5 billion offer from the city of San Francisco to buy the bankrupt company’s power lines and other infrastructure within the city, saying the offer was inadequate.

Earlier in the week, PG&E lost a major battle in court when U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali ruled that the company doesn’t have the ability to solely control its reorganization, and that a plan put forth by bondholders -- led by hedge fund Elliott Management and supported by California citizens with wildfire-damage claims against PG&E -- should be given consideration.

PG&E was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this past January because of liabilities resulting from northern California wildfires in 2017 and 2018.

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