It was supposed to be a trade deal championed by Prime Minister David Cameron, worked on by several government departments and potentially worth billions of pounds. But more than a year on, the alleged deal between Barnsley-based Solar Europa and the Turkish government appears to have made little to no progress.
When it was originally announced last October it was cast as a substantial coup for the firm, headed by David Hawkins. A £4.5 billion deal to produce a 3-4GW project in Turkey which would become one of the world’s largest. Cameron’s involvement in such an esteemed deal was unsurprising.
Barnsley and Rotherham Chamber of Commerce chief executive Andrew Denniff also announced the deal with much fanfare. “Using their local Chamber of Commerce and our national network to develop some key contacts in government and abroad, I am delighted to be able to confirm that, after more than three years’ hard work, Solar Europa is close to securing a US$7.25 billion dollar contract with the Turkish Government to provide, supply, install and service solar panels to a site in southern Turkey,” he said at the time.
Four months on, in February this year, Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis spoke up on behalf of his constituent claiming that the deal had been shrouded in red tape and had subsequently stalled. “Failure [to deliver] runs the risk of damage to our international credibility,” Jarvis said at the time. Jarvis’ office had yet to respond to requests for further comment on this story at the time of publication.
It wasn’t for a further several months that another update was forthcoming. A statement issued by Hawkins claimed the deal was still on track, was held up by elections in the country and would be signed by October. October came and went, yet no announcement has been forthcoming.
In July Solar Europa said the deal had been held up by elections in the country, and this much is true. The first election this year, held in June, resulted in a hung parliament after Ahmet Davutoğlu’s AKP party failed to secure a majority and attempts at forming a coalition were unsuccessful. A second, snap election earlier this month saw a near 9% swing in AKP’s favour and they now have a majority government. The more certain result should, in theory, pave the way for more concrete infrastructure developments in the country and, in turn, allow the deal to proceed.
Solar Power Portal contacted the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, once keen to associate itself with the deal, who advised that it was UK Trade & Investment led and that any comment on the deal would originate from that department. UKT&I had however not been informed of this, and the department refused to comment on the deal when contacted.
That the UK solar industry remains suspicious of the deal is perhaps not a surprise. Turkey is indeed a huge potential growth market for solar in general, but companies held in far higher esteem than Solar Europa are tiptoeing in. Hive Energy, one of the UK’s largest and most successful developers, has only just opened an office in the country and Yingli Green has just began working on a 20MW pipeline of projects in the country, which it only expects to complete by 2016. That a comparatively unknown company could secure such a deal ahead of those is enough to set alarm bells ringing.
And Turkey as a nation has more modest solar targets, choosing to tender for several-hundred megawatts at a time in order to pursue 5GW of solar capacity by 2020.
David Cameron and the UK government doesn’t exactly have the strongest track record on international trade deals involving solar companies either. In June last year Cameron helped land what was supposed to be a £400 million deal between UK installer MAP Environmental and Chinese module manufacturer ZN Shine, which would see the two work on UK ground-mounted solar farms with a combined capacity of around 400MW.
ZN Shine, a supposed Tier 1 module manufacturer, was of course removed from the minimum import price undertaking in March this year for and its European managing director was later removed over fraud allegations. Court documents obtained by sister publication PV Tech showed that he was alleged to have used company funds to pay a deposit on US$230,000 Ferrari 458, and also sanctioned unexplained payments of tens of thousands of dollars to a company whose sole shareholder and director happened to be his father. ZN Shine has since shuttered its entire European operations, leaving the deal in tatters. Such a strong record in international trade deals perhaps explains why the government is reluctant to speak on the record regarding this latest deal.
Solar Power Portal has since contacted Solar Europa directly, which said it could not comment publicly on the deal. An entity listed as Solar Europa, which included David Hawkins as a director until July, did in fact file for administration earlier this year however SPP understands this entity is unrelated to the trade deal in question and was solely focused at catering for the UK market.
Companies House has records for a Solar Europa Global, the entity which is understood to be linked to the trade deal, and David Hawkins again is named as a director of the company. It was incorporated and registered this morning (Thursday) with Companies House in Cardiff. Records held by Companies House shows Hawkins is joined by two other directors of Turkish nationality, namely Bulent Arslan and Ziya Aksahin. While Solar Europa Global is the only company Arslan appears to be linked with, Aksahin was for six years a director at the Turkish-British Chamber of Commerce and Industry, an entity established to “provide information, advice and services for the promotion of trade and investment between Turkey and the UK”.
The most recent update provided by Solar Europa Global’s website was late last month, confirming that it had signed a contract to acquire 30,000 metres squared of land for the development of a new solar PV factory in Karaman, a town in southern central Turkey between Antalya and the Syrian border.
And while the company has yet to comment, Solar Power Portal also understands that the deal is linked to a major infrastructure company in Turkey, and further developments are expected in the coming weeks. Until such a deal is announced and more details are forthcoming the prospective deal will continue to be marred by suspicion, perhaps triggered by what has occurred to previous deals the Prime Minister and central government departments have helped broker.