The recent announcement that Foresight had got rights on a project that has, for some time, been one of the most attractive grace projects in the UK, prompted the Solar Intelligence team at Solar Media to crunch through some of our numbers on how many grace-compliant projects are in the mix for fiscal year ending 31 March 2016. And how many would appear to have already been snapped up by asset-hungry investment portfolios.
Grace period projects are like gold dust today. They represent the final swansong for large-scale solar under the somewhat turbulent renewable obligation (RO) scheme. And the fact that they even exist post 31 March 2015 is probably the result of the government recognising that the RO changes imposed in May 2014 were not quite indicative of playing the solar industry with a straight bat.
Like any hastily arranged legislative change however, the absolute details of grace-compliant project qualification is not an exact science. And at the top is probably the date issue and whether it’s receipt of application or validation, or whether delays in validating are purely administrative at the council side.
Also causing some fluctuations in the number of grace projects available is the solar industry’s most-loved pastime – the appeal process. Many projects that had been submitted prior to the grace deadline date for applications, and were then rejected by a district council, were promptly put into the appeal queue. You can hardly blame developers for that, and there should be no surprises here at all at DECC also.
So there will be projects added to the grace list right up until the end of 2015, and quite possibly into January 2016, depending on the scope of the conditional discharges requiring to be approved before site completion and not to mention the grid connection status.
Let’s get to the numbers then for grace-compliant projects under 1.3 ROCs. As of 8 July 2015, there are just over 45 pending grace projects adding to a total of 715MW in the mix. Not all will be built before 31 March 2016, and some are small enough that they fall out the equation and would qualify for 1.3ROC status at sub-5MW anyway. Some may even find their way into CfD auctions, if grid access today is a gating factor.
However, it is the large projects (say above 10MW) that are the ones worth talking about. In this band, there are 25 projects adding to 544MW, with the above-mentioned 30MW Foresight project being one of these 25 sites. Four of the projects are above 40MW in size, with the strong possibility that the star-project from the prospect list will in fact exceed the elusive 50MW barrier. Take it as read that we will cover this on Solar Power Portal as events unfold!
The jostling for rights on grace projects from the investment community, as opposed to waiting until sites are built and then auctioned out, is perhaps setting the stage for what we can expect going into the world of CfD-proper at the end of this year.
For all intents and purposes, the upcoming CfD is really the first round that solar will participate in properly. Last year was neither here nor there for solar into CfDs. This was largely because any large consented project that qualified for entry into CfDs then more than likely had ‘grace’ written on it, or was one that was simply going to get built under 1.4 ROCs before 31 March 2015. In short, this explains why there were no large solar projects in the CfDs last year; no other analysis on last year’s CfD’s is needed at all and subsequent comments and discussions should be simply brushed under the carpet now.
This year is different, and actually much easier to forecast what will go into CfDs. The Solar Intelligence team is currently tracking all the CfD candidate sites for solar submissions later in the year. The full list of projects is now something that any credible investor either should have a carbon copy of, or find a quick way of obtaining!
Back to grace-activity though, and who are the companies that have been active on the buy-side? No surprises that Foresight and SunEdison (read TerraForm) are showing on our lists for starters as seasoned portfolio site acquisition specialists. As expected also, Lark Energy and British Solar Renewables have a strong active play in the larger of the grace projects on offer.
But lurking in the background as a potential dark-horse is BayWa, whose historic play in the UK solar industry has effectively resulted in asset ownership being taken out of the country to mainland Europe. Also factor in Anesco – although not currently showing up on the larger of the grace projects on offer (at least, not yet).
Vogt Solar is likely to be the first out the blocks on seeing one of the mid-sized grace projects through to completion, probably within the next few weeks. But the real activity is probably going on behind the scenes today, as efforts get underway to enable some of the larger projects (that for one reason or another were not built or started under 1.4ROCs) to happen, or get rights to projects still awaiting final appeal decisions in the coming months.
Anyone wishing to access Solar Media’s in-house database of grace-compliant projects can get in touch with us in the usual manner. Similarly for our database of projects currently being lined up for CfD submission later in the year.