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Booming Aussie solar sector sees landmark deal

Asia / 15-03-17 / by
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Commercial Solar Panels

Australia’s rejuvenated solar energy sector has this week seen its biggest single project financing to date.

A syndicate of commercial and state-owned lenders contributed A$230mn for two solar farms in Queensland and one in Victoria, which will be operational by the first quarter of 2018.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), NordLB and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (an Australian government institution) were the lenders on the deal. The borrowers were Australian renewable energy developer Edify Energy and the German solar investor Wirsol.

The Queensland solar farms will be on the Whitsunday Islands and will have a generating capacity of 138MW. The Victoria farm is to be in Gannawarra and will have a capacity of 60MW. It marks the first foray into Australia for Wirsol, a renowned solar investor in Europe.

While Australia’s sun and space have always made it a prime candidate for solar power, previous governments and a powerful coal lobby obstructed the sector’s development. The floodgates have now opened, with a series of deals announced this year already, and Wirsol tells GTR that this is just the start of its investments Down Under.

“We have ambitions to do a gigawatt in Australia by 2020. It sounds a big number, but here we have three projects with 200MW. We’re just about to enter into another agreement for 250MW which we’ll hopefully conclude in the next three months and rollout about 12 months thereafter,” Wirsol’s managing director Mark Hogan says.

The transaction marks the first long-term solar financing for CBA. The three lenders have parity on the amount, but the tenors differ. Hogan can’t disclose the exact details, but says it is “long-term debt akin to what we see in the UK”.

CBA has funded similar deals overseas, but Hogan says the bank was encouraged to finance the project based on the backers and the track records of the various parties involved. He also says that for the upcoming solar projects in Wirsol’s Australian pipeline, CBA will be at the front of the queue – should they have the appetite.

“This is ground-breaking for CBA as they have done long-term debt for renewables in Europe but not Australia. We went down and spoke to their team and they felt confident in us as partners who can deliver. We have a pedigree of building solar parks. We have a very strong financial backer in the form of Dietmar Hopp, major shareholder and co-founder of SAP who is worth several billion euros personally. The relationship was strong and the pedigree was strong, as it was with Edify and John Cole (Edify’s founder),” he says.

The CEFC, which was ordered to stop lending money to renewable energy companies under former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2013, has been enjoying a renaissance of late, and has been involved in a number of large renewable energy transactions in recent months.

In December 2016, the CEFC teamed up with CBA, SMBC and EKF (the Danish export credit agency) to lend A$120mn to a wind farm in New South Wales. Then in January, Société Générale and the CEFC lent A$100mn to a solar project in Northern Queensland.

“We specifically wanted to have an Australian bank involved and CEFC were supportive of that. They are there to stimulate the renewables but also the home market. For us to have the green bank of Australia [CEFC], an indigenous Australian bank and German money, it was the right combination as well. It ticks every box,” Hogan says.

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