Projects this size put the wind business into a new class, one that calls for consideration of a new approach to financing. In the areas of Europe where most of the world's wind power is sited, money to pay for it has often been raised as personal loans with little risk to the lender. In Germany it has nearly all come from government-backed sources. As such, high returns on investment were neither sought nor required.
Attracting investors of the calibre needed to fund $100 million-plus ventures -- and with a fair element of risk -- is another matter though. Such investors will require that the rewards are well worthwhile. And that requires project financing structures which, by their nature, can increase the rate of return on investments (pages 36-39). The success of the model has already been proved in getting wind plant financed in Britain and North America where soft loans have not been available.
Whether Europe's traditional sources of cheap money will remain in place for the mega-projects coming up is an unanswered question. But the fact that members of the financial world are now sniffing around the fringes of the wind business with barely disguised eagerness gives a clue to the answer. They believe wind will need to turn to the world of commercial finance.
That might be no bad thing, for two reasons. First, a proposal for project financing is rigorously scrutinised to eliminate as much risk as possible -- and what risk is left is spread over several entities, diluting it further. Interestingly, the kWh cost of the end product is apparently unaffected by this costly process (pages 39-42), suggesting that the discipline imposed by "due diligence" cuts out a lot of waste in the long run. Second, while soft loans are part of the realm of "hidden costs" for the taxpayer, commercial financing allows everybody to see how much a kilowatt hour from wind energy truly costs, when all expenses are accounted for.