“Quebec Inc” scoops up Ontario renewable energy projects

Valuable contracts with above-market rates for wind and solar power are attracting investor attention

Perhaps unbeknownst to many, Ontario’s electricity ratepayers are accumulating debt in the electricity file (Fair Hydro Plan or FHP); that debt will reappear in future years to ensure electricity rate increases exceed inflation by a wide margin.

The cause of the FHP debt can be traced to the Green Energy Act (GEA) and the FIT and MicroFIT contracts handed out by the Ontario Liberal Government under Premiers McGuinty and Wynne.  Those lucrative above-market (confirmed by the Auditor General) contracts were granted to mainly foreign-owned companies. The companies rushed to Ontario to take advantage of the above-market rates offered for renewable energy of the wind and solar variety.

Many of those foreign-owned companies are now leaving Ontario, cashing out on the lucrative contracts by selling them to willing buyers. Our provincial neighbour “Quebec Inc.”, with its cheap electricity prices, is rushing in to scoop up many of those contracts along with others like the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB). The latter purchased NextEra’s portfolio (Head Office Florida) of 396 MW of wind and solar contracts, paying $1.871 million per MW for a total of $741 million CAD and assuming the debt (US $689 million).

“Quebec Inc’s” acquisitions are more “under the radar” and most costs are unknown, but some of the bigger investment players with Quebec headquarters are very active.

The one recent acquisition from “Quebec Inc.” caught the attention of many in Eastern Ontario was the purchase of a controlling interest in the unbuilt 100-MW Nation Rise wind power project in North Stormont, south of Ottawa. When newly elected Premier Ford’s government announced they were cancelling 758 renewable wind and solar energy projects, most Ontarians thought Nation Rise would be one of: it wasn’t. Somehow the bureaucrats in the former Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change managed to issue the REA (renewable energy approval) just a few days before the election writ was dropped despite wind power and this project in particular being a prominent election issue.

To top things off, the IESO (Independent Electricity System Operator) were satisfied that EDPR had met their “key development milestones” and issued the NTP (Notice to Proceed) on June 13, 2019, days after the election and weeks before the Ford government announced the new cabinet.

When the approval became public, community group Concerned Citizens of North Stormont, stepped up their fight to stop the power project.

Project developer EDPR then sold off controlling interest in the Nation Rise project along with other existing operating projects. Before that happened however, EDPR submitted an application dated October 11, 2018 to the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) for a electricity generation licence. Question 13 of the application asks the question; “Has the applicant secured financing?”

EDPR ticked the NO box.

The OEB appears to have overlooked the lack of secured financing (based on the application) and granted the licence December 20, 2018 without comment.

EDPR is a subsidiary of EDP a global energy company with its headquarters in Portugal and with significant renewable energy assets in North and South America. With 2,300 industrial wind turbines in the USA, EDP rank third in installations.

EDP has been a takeover target for several years by Three Gorges, a Chinese state-owned company who are already a significant shareholder. Because of the Chinese state ownership the US government expressed concerns with the possible purchase by Three Gorges. The principal concern is the volatility of US electricity grids and security issues surrounding them. Other EU countries with EDP electricity generation assets are also concerned with grid security issues in the event of a takeover by Three Gorges.

In the midst of takeover buzz, EDPR suddenly sold off controlling interest in some of their North American generation assets to a Quebec-based company, Axium Infrastructure Inc. Eight days after the OEB blessed the EDPR licence application for Nation Rise, Axium issued a press release announcing they had closed an agreement to acquire an 80-percent interest in three wind power projects, totaling 499 MW in the U.S. and Canada from EDPR.

Nation Rise was one of those acquired.

A month and a half earlier, Axium was the lead investor in the purchase from U.S.-based Pattern Energy Group of a 90-MW minority interest in the 270 MW K2* wind generation project. The purchase price was CAD $216 million.

Following OEB’s approval of the EDPR Nation Rise generation licence, Axium Infrastructure submitted an application to the OEB dated January 14, 2019 seeking approval of their majority (80 percent) acquisition. The application form asks no questions about financing, nor does it ask questions about bankruptcy or criminal issues for either the company or individual officers, unlike the “generation licence” application format.

The application to the OEB indicated Axium held investments in seven of Ontario’s wind turbine developments and 19 solar projects. It also included the following: “After completion of the Proposed Transaction and the Project, Axium and its affiliates will have a generation capacity of 1,050 MW** on a gross basis and 563 MW on a net basis within the Province of Ontario.”

On February 28, 2019 Axium issued a further press release reporting they acquired a 50-percent interest in a 101-MW solar portfolio in Ontario from Mitsubishi Corporation.

In short, Axium has been very aggressive in acquiring Ontario’s foreign-owned wind and solar projects and Ontario’s regulator, the OEB, have blessed everything Axium has done.

That’s obvious if one reads the short letter dated February 14, 2019 from the OEB notifying  Axium about their Nation Rise acquisition: “the OEB does not intend to issue a notice of review of the proposal.”  Was this due diligence?

Tomorrow, in Part 2 of my look at the “Quebec Inc” acquisition spree, I will attempt to explore who is behind Axium Infrastructure, the interaction with the Ontario Energy Board and how the latter executes its Vision: “The OEB supports and guides the continuing evolution of the Ontario energy sector by promoting outcomes and innovation that deliver value for all Ontario energy consumers.”

PARKER GALLANT

 

*K2 was a Samsung project commissioned in September 2015 so has about 17 years left in its contract and if it operated at 30% of capacity would generate approximately $540 million in gross revenue over the remaining term of its contract for the 90 MW of capacity now owned by the Axium consortium.                                                                                                                                 **That amount of renewable generation would represent approximately 14% of all current operating renewable wind and solar in Ontario.

 

 

 

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Author: parkergallantenergyperspectivesblog

Retired international banker.

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