Europe’s big lenders still backing green power

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - The credit crunch is starting to make an impact on smaller European green energy projects, but cash-rich utilities and the bigger lending institutions will continue to get deals done, green power experts say.

"The main problem for the smaller developers is the short-term freeze on lending," said Christian Kjaer of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), adding that the credit crunch could lead to consolidation in the sector.

"We may see some of the smaller projects which have turbine delivery contracts but are struck by the banking liquidity freeze being taken over by the larger power companies," he said.

Many foreign-owned banks have withdrawn from funding renewable energy projects in Britain, said Richard Simon-Lewis, director of project finance for energy and utilities at Lloyds TSB Corporate Markets.

"A lot of deals are being done by clubs of banks," he added. "For the very big deals...

we are seeing the multilaterals, the likes of the European Investment Bank and potentially the government coming in to co-fund."

Juan Alario, who heads the EIB's energy lending team, said the bank was considering lending to a large number of big offshore wind projects in the North Sea and Baltic Sea, some worth more than 1 billion euros (US$1.3 billion).

A ring of giant wind turbines connected by underwater cables is a central part of the European Commission's plan for bolstering energy security and curbing unreliable imports of fossil fuels.

The EIB has so far part-financed offshore wind projects costing close to 2 billion euros in the region, starting in 2002 with Elsam's 80-turbine project off Denmark's west coast.

That could rise to 7 or 8 billion if all projects in its current pipeline are built.

Alario said that while the recent explosive growth in renewables was slowing, the EIB had increased its target for lending to the sector this year to about a fifth of its lending for energy projects.

That would amount to about 3 billion euros, from a total energy, climate change and infrastructure lending budget of around 15 billion, a major increase on the 2.3 billion lent in 2008 and the 2 billion lent in 2007.

Alario said the work of assessing renewable projects had risen strongly. "This year, I expect the number of renewable projects will most likely be higher than the number of conventional energy projects," he said.

EWEA's Kjaer said 43 percent of new power generating capacity in the EU was wind power in 2008, and that would be matched this year. Globally, the industry could see growth.

"There are some indications coming out of the United States that the market could drop a little, but then there are also signs the Chinese market could grow a little," he said.

"So overall, I would say the market will grow in 2009, but probably not by the 30 to 40 percent we've seen in recent years."


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