The FIT program is winding down – what’s next for project finance in Canada’s renewable power sector?
Ontario’s feed-in-tariff (“FIT”) program has attracted billions of dollars in private-sector investment and resulted in a significant amount of project financing activity since its introduction in 2009. Yet with Ontario on track to procure 10,700 MW of non-hydro renewable energy by 2015, the Ontario government is now moving away from large FIT. In early 2012, the Ontario government reduced FIT rates due to potential overcapacity and nearly maxed-out transmission lines and, more recently, ended the FIT program for projects over 500 kW. The existing backlog of renewable energy projects will require an estimated $7 billion of debt to finance. Notwithstanding that this should keep project financiers busy for some time, it is never too early to start looking for new opportunities.
First, there is ongoing work available on “mini perm” financings. There are currently projects in existence where the long-term life of the renewable energy assets and the availability or attractiveness of debt financing matching the asset life do not coincide. The last year has seen a significant increase in bond and other take-out financings as construction-financed projects require refinancing. These and other kinds of take-out financing should keep project financiers busy in Ontario even as FIT winds down.
Second, there is potential for new wind power development in Quebec. The government recently put out a 800 MW procurement for wind capacity, with 150 MW reserved for a project being developed by the Mi’gmawei Mawiomi, 200 MW allocated to Hydro-Québec Production, and 450 MW to be awarded through a call for tenders process. Moreover, this announcement was made as part of a broader, longer-term energy strategy that is expected to be unveiled in the near future.
Third, there is significant opportunity for new renewable energy development in British Columbia. B.C. faces increasing power needs, both due to population growth and to the likely development of several large-scale liquefied natural gas terminals in Northern B.C. The B.C. government is simultaneously aiming to lower greenhouse gas emissions by 33% below 2007 levels by 2020 and has set a target of 93% “clean electricity generation”, although there is a debate about whether natural gas is considered “clean electricity”. Accordingly, BC Hydro is contemplating programs to procure up to 2,000 GWh of annual renewable energy capacity to come online between 2016-2018.
Fourth, there is potential for major “one-off” renewable energy projects. The ambitious “Ring of Fire” and “Plan Nord” plans call for large-scale mining projects that may be powered by renewable energy. The planned Muskrat Falls mega-development and the proposed follow-up Gull Island Generating Facility are other projects to keep an eye on
In short – although there may be fewer new FIT projects, there is much to look forward to on the horizon.