Getting your solar project ducks in a row – an Ontario financier’s perspective
By Amir Keranovic
Since the Ontario government launched North America’s first Renewable Energy (RE) Feed-In-Tariff (FIT) program last fall, thousands of megawatts of Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) have been awarded to private solar energy developers and integrators operating in the province.
By Amir Keranovic
Despite the government’s generous 20-year secured contracts, many renewable energy companies in the region are still finding it difficult to secure the necessary capital to fund the construction portion of their projects, and as a result, several projects are now coming up for grabs.
“Many companies are too focused on securing as many property leases as possible, as fast as possible, without putting enough emphasis on the projects themselves,” said Martin Baldwin, a former international banker and Chief Financial Officer for Atlantic Wind & Solar—a leading publicly traded, renewable energy company headquartered in Toronto. “A lot of work needs to go into making sure that the FIT contracts you get are the ones you want. The contracts are very specific and can’t be altered. Basically you have to get all your ducks in a row before you can get your panels in a row.”
The “ducks in a row” Baldwin refers to is preplanning, design and engineering, plus the addressing of key issues such as equipment bankability, proven operating and maintenance platforms, and project rates of return. Although these issues vary from region to region they are the key fundamentals of the industry.
“You have to find the right blend of cost, compensation for the property, return for the company, return for external investors, and other components specific to the Ontario market before you can even start a finance discussion. Financing is a key component to these projects, even for companies that plan to fund the equity portions internally,” added Baldwin. “Ontario has an enormous appetite for power and the Ontario Power Authority has a strong commitment to renewables. There is a vast amount of commercial-sized rooftops and even more farmers’ fields on which to produce power. We believed from the beginning that the race would not be for FIT contracts and leases but for financing. This focus has served us well.”
The seeming lack of project funding in the province is not necessarily being viewed as a bad thing by some of the larger, better funded companies. In fact, Atlantic believes this is simply a case of Darwinism at it’s finest, where only the strong survive, while the smaller companies either drop off, or simply get acquired. The company confided that through consolidation, their Ontario project pipeline has grown by almost 15% in the last few weeks alone.
In response, the company recently announced that it has launched a Wind and Solar Project Financing Division, designed to assist other solar integrators and developers in bringing their projects into full construction by providing the necessary guidance and possible funding where others would not.
While waddling to the finish line, it appears that slow and steady may be a key factor in winning the renewable energy race in Ontario.