Biggest Private Buyout Ever Has Green Tinge

Unless you live in parts of Texas that get electricity from TXU Corp., today's news that Kohlberg Kravis Roberts will buy TXU is probably just an arcane business headline.

That, even though it's the biggest private corporate buyout in history -- $32 billion, plus about $13 billion in debt. But that really doesn't affect most of us.

Major environmental groups, however, are calling the deal a "watershed." By pushing, negotiating, lobbying and taking TXU to court, they say, they got the terms of the deal changed to benefit the global environment.

Before selling to Kohlbert Kravis Roberts, perhaps the nation's most aggressive buyout firm, TXU agreed to cancel most of a $10 billion plan to build eight giant coal-fired power plants.

'Green Conditions' on Business Deal

"The world is changing a little bit when the biggest buyout deal yet is made contingent on certain green conditions going forward having to do with climate change," said Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense, an activist group that had been doing battle with TXU.

The deal must still be approved by shareholders and regulators.

"While this earthquake took place in Texas, the reverberations are going to be felt from Wall Street to Washington, and it's about time," said David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which had joined Environmental Defense in battling TXU's coal plants.

TXU also agreed to cut electricity prices 10 percent, which it said would save TXU residential customers more than $300 million per year.

In addition, TXU will join a business coalition called USCAP, which calls on the federal government to set limits on the amounts of greenhouse gases companies can generate.

Other members of the group, which includes General Electric Co., DuPont and Alcoa Inc., argue that they can make a profit by developing new, energy-efficient technologies.

Ending a Long Public Battle

In recent months, environmentalists have blasted TXU in publications and advertisements, and controversy over the proposed coal plants was seen as one reason that TXU's stock price had fallen recently after a mighty four-year rise.

The power company enlisted help from William K. Reilly, who was head of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George H.W. Bush, to strike the compromise that won the environmental groups' support for the sale.

Henry Kravis, founding partner of KKR, pledged to make TXU into "a more innovative, customer-centric, environmentally friendly company." He said the private-equity buyers -- who are often viewed as short-term investors looking to resell -- see TXU as a long-term asset.

David Bonderman, founding partner of Texas Pacific, one of the major players in the deal, said the new owners' approach would "better manage the delicate balance between the energy needs of a growing Texas population, responsibility to the environment and the cost concerns of Texas businesses and residents."

The deal would top the previous biggest private buyout ever of $25.1 billion set in 1988 when RJR Nabisco was acquired by Kohlberg Kravis.

TXU had struggled near bankruptcy in the early part of the decade before a turnaround that began in 2004 made the company highly profitable again. The dramatic rise in TXU's stock price stalled, however, making it an attractive takeover target.

The company had planned to build 11 coal-fired power plants, saying Texas needed more power to satisfy a growing population. But opponents contend that adding coal-fired plants would be unwise with concern rising over greenhouse gas emissions and the effect on the environment.

During the weekend, KKR and Texas Pacific agreed to drop eight of the proposed plants while going ahead with three in central Texas if they took control of the company.

The bidders also agreed not to propose new coal-fired plants outside Texas and to support mandatory national caps on emissions linked to global warming.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.