Coastal GasLink pipeline investor committed to closing deal despite protests

Protesters stand near closed train tracks in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville, Ont. on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, as they protest in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs opposed to the LNG pipeline in northern British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

CALGARY - An investment firm buying a stake in the Coastal GasLink pipeline says it remains "committed" to the deal despite protester blockades that have shut down railway lines in parts of Canada and threaten to inflict damage to the Canadian economy.

Alberta Investment Management Corp., which looks after more than $115 billion in public sector pension funds for the province, agreed with American partner KKR in December to form a consortium to buy a 65 per cent interest in the project.

Developer TC Energy Corp. — formerly TransCanada Corp. — is to remain the operator of the $6.6-billion pipeline with a 35 per cent interest if the deal closes as expected in the first half of this year.

"AIMCo remains committed to our investment in the Coastal GasLink pipeline," said spokesman Denes Nemeth in an email on Tuesday.

"We have confidence in TC Energy's ability to deal with the situation appropriately to ensure the successful build of this project."

A spokeswoman for KKR declined comment. It has said its investment is being made primarily through a separately managed infrastructure account in partnership with the National Pension Service of Korea.

Financial details of the deal and ownership percentages within the consortium have not been revealed.

The contract with TC Energy is also confidential, which makes it difficult to speculate whether AIMCo and KKR would be able to extricate themselves from the pipeline pact if they wanted to, said Matthew Taylor, an analyst for Tudor Pickering Holt & Co., who covers TC Energy.

"I'd imagine there are standard provisions in it with respect to regulatory risk and scope changes should the project's route need to be adjusted to accommodate the First Nations' requests," he said.

"We need to see the outcome of the government negotiations before having an idea of the impact to the project or potential delay. The project currently has court injunctions to proceed with construction so technically it has the green light by virtue of the rule of law."

Analyst Jennifer Rowland of Edward Jones says she thinks the deal will go through.

"We've seen similar protests on other projects that didn't end up derailing a sale.... At this point, pipeline protests are a known risk for any potential buyer," she said.

The 670-kilometre pipeline from northeastern B.C. to the West Coast is intended to deliver natural gas to the $40-billion LNG Canada export project that's under construction at Kitimat.

Protesters say they are supporting Wet'suwet'in hereditary chiefs who are opposed to the pipeline running through their territory in B.C.

The pipeline has support from 20 elected band councils along the route who have signed benefit agreements.

Once the partnership deal is done, TC Energy says Coastal GasLink will secure financing with a syndicate of banks to cover up to 80 per cent of project costs during construction.

Coastal GasLink is backed by 25-year transportation agreements with the five LNG Canada owners.

LNG Canada says the project is expected to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90 million tonnes per year by displacing coal- and diesel-fuelled generation with cleaner burning natural gas.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 18, 2020.

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