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GE sells stake in solar business to BlackRock

Solar news. Photographer: Jacob Kepler/Bloomberg
Solar news. Photographer: Jacob Kepler/Bloomberg

General Electric Co. agreed to sell a majority stake in a solar-energy business to BlackRock Inc., giving the investment giant footing in a growing market as the ailing manufacturer shifts its focus elsewhere.

A fund managed by BlackRock’s Real Assets unit will own 80% of Distributed Solar Development, a new company created from GE Solar, the companies said Wednesday in a statement. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

The deal furthers GE’s streamlining as Chief Executive Officer Larry Culp seeks to rescue the conglomerate by narrowing focus around aviation, gas power and wind energy. The Boston-based company is using mergers to exit the oil and locomotive markets, and GE has said it is “evaluating strategic options” for its venture-capital operations.

GE Solar, a consulting business with about 60 employees, has been incubated within GE since 2012. The unit, which doesn’t make solar panels, focuses on “solar and storage solutions for the commercial industrial and public sectors.” GE had explored solar-panel manufacturing but sold its technology to First Solar Inc. in 2013.

GE fell 1.5% to $10.23 at 10:42 a.m. in New York, while BlackRock slid 1.5% to $470.13.

Once Risky

BlackRock’s Real Assets unit, which has more than $50 billion in client commitments, started its renewable-power platform in 2012. The GE deal comes as investors begin prioritizing a solar segment that was once viewed as riskier than developments for utilities or homeowners: projects for commercial and industrial customers.

Part of the impetus is money, as smaller solar farms offer returns that can be more than 2% higher than big projects.

It’s also a matter of availability and supply. Large institutional investors have dominated recent auctions for utility-scale developments, crowding out other would-be buyers. And states including California have committed to rid their grids of emissions, encouraging more renewables developments.

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