One of the main criticisms levelled at Vietnam’s wind power sector is the relatively low feed-in tariff (FiT) introduced by the government in 2011. With the country’s rapid growth, energy demand is expected to soar over the coming years. Coupled with international pressure to keep to its greenhouse gas commitments, Vietnam is in desperate need of large-scale and long-term investment in its renewable energy sector.
The buying price of VND1,614/kWh (US$0.078) was set for all land-based projects in the country, with 6.8 cents paid by State-run power monopoly Vietnam Electricity (EVN), and the rest coming from the country’s Environment Protection Fund.
However, the rate, intended to encourage the development of wind power projects, was considered insufficient for investors to recover their investment capital. The tariff is also much lower than in neighbouring Indonesia (US$0.11), Malaysia (US$0.1476) and Thailand (US$0.19).
Change of direction
Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade (MoIT) has recently proposed an adjustment to the rate, asking the government to raise the buying price for wind power in an effort to help investors cover high input costs. It is hoped that such a move would push foreign firms to develop new wind power projects or expand their existing farms. Accelerated development in this sector is vital if Vietnam is to meet the energy targets it has set for itself, as well as wean the country off dirty and expensive imports of coal.
The ministry has suggested the price be lifted to US$0.087 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for wind energy projects on land and US$0.0995 cents per kWh for offshore farms. Such a rate would still lag behind regional competitors and the global average of US$0.196 per kWh as reported by the World Energy Commission, but may present a more feasible option to investors.
On top of the off-putting FiT, the number of wind power projects in Vietnam remains low as only wind turbine towers, accounting for 20 percent of production costs, can be produced locally, while investors have to import the remaining components.
Not winding down yet
There’s little doubt about the country’s potential for wind exploitation – according to a World Bank report, 8.6 percent of Vietnam’s land mass is suitable for the construction of wind farms, which would produce sufficient electricity to meet a lot of current and future power needs.
Some of the country’s currently operating wind farms, specifically in the province of Binh Thuan, work with the previously promulgated FiT of US$0.078 per kWh, and the Bac Lieu wind farm enjoys US$0.098 per kWh due to its offshore location.
The MoIT has highlighted these projects as part of the reasoning behind the rate hike. Concerns have been raised by the investors behind the projects over the time it would take to recover their investment capital. In fact, the investors in question had previously requested authorities raise the regulated FiT to $0.095 per kWh, but were unsuccessful.
According to the investor of the Phu Lac wind farm, the first phase of the project, which came into operation in November 2016, has total investment capital of VND1.1 trillion (US$48.4 million). With the existing FiT, it would take around 14 years to recover the investment of just the first phase. Considering the average lifespan of a wind farm is just 20 to 25 years, it’s no wonder that developers are hesitant about breaking ground on new projects.
As of now, there are 48 registered wind power projects with total capacity of 5,000MW in Vietnam, 23 of which have had their pre-feasibility reports approved by the MoIT and are patiently waiting for an increase in the FiT. It remains to be seen whether the suggested increase is enough for the projects to move ahead.
The proposal by the MoIT demonstrates an acceptance that despite a range of tax benefits offered to foreign investors including exemptions from customs duties, a preferential corporate tax rate of 10% and income tax and land use fee exemptions, the government’s initial energy strategy proved unappealing to investors. To offset any complaints, the trade ministry has calculated that the price adjustment they are proposing would raise EVN’s production costs by a slight VND0.08 per kWh this year and VND0.23 per kWh in 2019.
Even a light increase in the FiT, as put forward by the MoIT, could stoke some growth in the sector. The attraction of foreign investors capable of producing complicated parts could mean that the localisation ratio is bumped to more than 40 percent. For example, China has reached a localisation ratio of almost 100 percent for their wind power projects, but the selling price of the energy stands at around US$0.08 per kWh.
In summary, the proposed hike seems insufficient to really improve Vietnam’s position as a renewable energy leader in Southeast Asia. The sector remains riddled with problems of transparency and the perpetual presence of giants like EVN is an obstacle for smaller private players looking to enter the market. A meagre FiT does little to neutralise the risks faced by investors and power producers, especially with more promising offers in the region. The silver lining, however, is that authorities are open to change. The MoIT is echoing the concerns of the renewable energy sector, from both established and potential projects, and looking at ways to develop a more favourable climate going forward. Even if they’re not yet blown away by the increase, investors would do well to watch this space.