Bankers say lack of policy not slowing renewables boom


”There’s still a wall of investment looking for a home,” Mr Ward said.

“Regulatory uncertainty hasn’t stopped the large volume of investment.”

MUFG is one of the nation’s largest renewable lenders, with more than $1 billion in renewable loans on its books, such as Tilt Renewables’ under-construction 1-gigawatt Dundonnell wind farm in Victoria.

We see a pipeline of around 30 gigawatts of renewable energy projects seeking investment over the coming years, that are worth around $30 billion to $40 billion

EY’s Matt Rennie

Mr Ward said even as some lenders are reducing their risk by deleveraging deals, borrowers are more confident in renewable generation’s future returns.

“We’re seeing increasing levels of aggression and these groups taking more risks to get these projects forward,” Mr Ward said.

“We’re seeing more people taking on merchant risk and construction risk.

“They’re pricing this risk into the market.”

Mr Ward said this is being supported by more buyers of renewable power, including corporates and state governments, through programs such as Victoria’s VRET and Queensland’s Powering Queensland initiative, which aim to boost renewable generation in these states.

He said this willingness to increase risk exposure played a role in the recent collapse of engineering group RCR Tomlinson.

RCR went into administration with debts of nearly $630 million after it left itself overexposed to solar farm projects that took longer to complete than contracted, forcing RCR to absorb the higher cost overruns.

A power pipeline

The Clean Energy Council said in 2018 alone there was more than $20 billion in investment across 83 renewable energy projects.

Rystad Energy’s Australian head Gero Farrugio said 2018 was Australia’s first ‘gigawatt year’, and 2019 will eclipse it.

“There were nearly 30GW of new solar, wind and storage projects added to the pipeline in 2018, over half of these were in NSW,” Mr Farrugio said.

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“This averaged more than 2GW per month; up to 70 per cent were from overseas investors. Clearly, the appetite from overseas is strong and policy is not driving this interest.”

EY global transaction analyst Matt Rennie said even in the wake of RCR’s collapse the investment pipeline remains strong in 2019 and beyond.

“We see a pipeline of around 30 gigawatts of renewable energy projects seeking investment over the coming years, that are worth around $30 billion to $40 billion,” Mr Rennie said.

“Of those, around $15 billion to $20 billion will be going ahead to a financial close in the next 15 to 20 years, on top of finance already committed.”

KPMG’s global head of power and utilities Ted Surette added, “Australia is still attractive for renewables investment.”

“We had a tsunami of investment in 2018, it will be bigger still in 2019.”

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the government’s renewable financing arm, has also committed more than $2 billion to support greener energy and sees growing demand from investors for wind and solar investments.

“Institutional investors are expressing an increasing appetite for environmentally responsible investment opportunities, alongside heightened scrutiny on the climate risk issues within their portfolios,” CEFC Equity lead Rory Lonergan said.

“It’s critical that we increase the amount of finance available for large-scale renewable energy projects, especially at the early stage of development. These projects require a strong capital base and a long-term commitment to investment returns, making them ideally suited to institutional investors.”

Businesses going green

Corporates are also supporting this boom, as they invest and underwrite more renewable generation.

Mr Ward said the rise of power purchase agreements or ‘offtake’ agreements- companies buying power to be generated from yet to be built wind and solar farms – have been used instead to support the construction of these projects.

Globally, companies bought twice as much renewable energy through PPAs in 2018 as they did in 2017, with Facebook alone buying as much renewable energy as all businesses in the Asia-Pacific region. Australian businesses bought about 700 megawatts of renewable PPAs last year.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts continued growth in PPAs, particularly in Asia Pacific where “demand still far outstrips supply”.

Covering energy and policy at Fairfax Media.

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