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Eversource dives into proxy battle over Connecticut Water

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The water business is big business. Just ask Eversource CEO Jim Judge.

His company is wading into a proxy battle over the fate of Connecticut Water, which serves about 300,000 people in 56 towns in the Nutmeg State. The smaller utility’s executives want to merge with SJW Group, a similar company in San Jose led by a former Connecticut Water CEO. Eversource wants to get in the way — and claim Connecticut Water for its own.

Eversource urged shareholders to reject SJW and insist that Connecticut Water meet with Eversource to discuss its own bid for the company. (SJW, meanwhile, is fending off a hostile takeover offer in California.) Eversource argues its $63.50-per-share bid ( roughly $750 million) is superior, even though SJW is offering slightly more per share (based on SJW’s April 19 stock price).

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Eversource says its proposal gives shareholders a cash-out option, offers a better dividend boost, and is a stronger geographic fit. SJW, meanwhile, says its plan protects jobs and is well on its way to completion, in late 2018.

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For Eversource, water represents a way to lift revenue. It completed its first water acquisition, of Aquarion, in December, adding some $210 million to annual revenue. May not sound like much for a nearly $7.8 billion company. But consider this: Its top line grew by only 1 percent in 2017.

Meanwhile, privatization efforts are being debated on Beacon Hill. The Baker administration has pushed legislation this year that would make it easier for cities and towns to enter into water partnerships with private companies, without needing the Legislature’s permission. But a legislative committee just removed that language from an environmental bond bill , after hearing concerns about privatization.

Water sure seems ubiquitous: Just turn on the tap. But it’s also one of the planet’s most precious resources — one apparently worth fighting over.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Connecticut Water serves about 300,000 customers. The company actually has about 90,000 customers, but serves 300,000 people.

Jon Chesto is a Globe reporter. Reach him at jon.chesto@globe.com and follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.