United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Analysis: Green Investment Bank shores up faltering UK offshore market

UK: The UK's Green Investment Bank's (GIB) recent decision to buy stakes in two of the country's offshore wind farms has been pounced on by the government as a sign that the industry is in rude health. The truth is a little more complicated.

The foundations are only just being installed at Westermost Rough
The foundations are only just being installed at Westermost Rough

On the announcement of the £461 million (EUR 556 million) investment, energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey said it was "proof of the strength of investment" in the industry.

In reality, the past few months have seen the UK's once thriving offshore market hit a troubled period, with a number of flagship projects being trimmed or cancelled, meaning a reduction of 6GW since November.

Then last month the GIB, which was set up by the government with £3.8 billion funding, stepped in, buying stakes in the 576MW Gwynt y Mor and 210MW Westermost Rough projects, both under construction, from RWE and Dong respectively. There is a feeling the intervention could have been made to help restore confidence.

"The investment ties quite closely to recent cuts by others," said Alisdair McDougall, an analyst at renewable energy finance analysts Verdantix. "There's a rumbling within the market that the government can't really afford to have... that creates an atmosphere where people start thinking 'well let's not start investing there'."

Feng Zhao, research director at BTM Navigant, agrees that the investment landscape has changed in recent times: "The Green Investment Bank is simply taking up the slack from big investors. Many utilities are keen to invest, but it's just too risky and too expensive. They played a key role previously, but now they're cash-strapped and the projects are also getting a lot larger and more expensive."

For its part, the GIB denies that it has been motivated to make the investment by recent developments in the market. "The strategy isn't affected by that [recent cuts by developers]," said Edward Northam, the GIB's head of investment banking. "It's consistent with players moving in and out of the market as they do with any market. Our strategy is not dictated by those developments at all."

Taking on more risk

Significantly, the purchase of a stake in these two projects is a departure from a previous policy of investing in operating assets. Both Gwynt y Mor and Westermost Rough are under construction and therefore represent a much greater risk to any investor.

"We started off at the operating end of offshore wind, which is low risk. What you see here are our first two investments where we are taking construction risk exposure in offshore wind. We're doing that because the market is maturing," said Northam.

But Zhao offers a slightly different perspective, commenting that the GIB is going to have to take on more construction risk to help the UK government in its plans for offshore wind development, which is so key to hitting its increasingly out-of-reach 2020 targets.

Industry observers can certainly expect to see further investments in offshore wind from the GIB, with Northam indicating that it is already looking at further projects, while a rough target is in place for 50% of all investments to be in offshore wind.

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