Analysis: China moves to buy European wind capacity

SPAIN: Gamesa's deal to sell its 28MW Barchin project to Chinese utility China Huadian not only marks the first Spanish project sale in two years, it hints at a possible revival in sales of existing capacity.

The projects uses Gamesa's G90 2MW turbine
The projects uses Gamesa's G90 2MW turbine

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Market observers believe expansionist Chinese wind operators, keen to enter mature European markets, could be among the takers. Local operators, including giants such as Acciona and ACS, are divesting in their home market, beleaguered by reform, cuts and uncertainty since 2010.

"One thing for certain is there is a swell of foreign interest, especially from China, in pricing online capacity in Spain," confided an insider at Gamesa, which has a sideline business in developing wind projects to sell.

"For Huadian, we see the deal as a risk-free opportunity to get exposure to established, non-Chinese wind markets," said Magnus Dale of energy consultants IHS Emergin Energy Research, underlining the plant's relatively small size.

The Barchin project, located in Cuenca in Castile–La Mancha, features 14 Gamesa G90 2MW turbines and began operating in 2012.

But there could be more to come: "Gamesa is a global OEM [original equipment manufacturer] who could act as a door-opener to strategic markets in Latin America and Asia further ahead," Dale said.

"[For Gamesa] it is clearly a way to unload assets and reduce debt," said Dale. But it also cements ties to Huadian, a long-standing Gamesa customer and partner in China, he added. Dale even suggested that Huadian "could become key for access to China's burgeoning offshore wind market".

Gamesa points out that finalisation of Spain's electricity reform process in June this year has ended a four-year period of regulation uncertainty for new wind investments. So, Spanish ground is once again stable, even if less fertile.

Precise assessment of the deal is hampered by Gamesa and Huadian's refusal to reveal the sale price or plant output data.

Still profitable

Nevertheless, it has drawn attention to the fact that much online capacity in Spain remains profitable, despite this summer's final rubber stamp to reforms and cuts.

Under the new rules, Barchin will earn an estimated maximum of EUR 89/MWh and a minimum or EUR 76/MWh, according to a market analysis by Spanish renewables Association APPA.

This range may fall well below a European Union EUR 96/MWh average in 2013, according to IHS figures, but it competes with France's EUR 82/MWh or Bulgaria's EUR 74/MWh, for instance.

Paradoxically, the higher Spanish hourly rate will be earned by wind farms with low capacity factors because the reform introduces a subsidy for wind proportional to installed capacity — a concept criticised by the sector as an illogical counter incentive to investing in improving plant efficiency. 

The applicable rates vary according to year of commissioning. Barchin is located in Cuenca province, where prevailing capacity factors are low.

The new rules — imposed by decree by Spain's governing right-wing People's Party — leave all new capacity after 2013, together with existing capacity online before 2005, with no subsidy at all.

But for capacity installed between 2008 and 2013 — around 8GW of Spain's 23GW online total — APPA calculates that higher earning plants will receive more than EUR 85/MWh, peaking at EUR 93/MWh for some projects commissioned in 2009.

There are rumours that such prices will appear increasingly attractive especially to those seeking the added value of acquiring experience in a mature market. With local divestment growing, the takers will soon emerge.

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