ADB Approved $11.5 Million Loan for Baikonur Solar Plant
On March 5, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) announced that they had signed off on $11.5 million worth of funding in tenge equivalent for a solar plant to be built in Baikonur near the eponymous Russian space center. According to the ADB press release, the 50MW photovoltaic solar plant will generate around 73 GWh of electricity per year, helping Kazakhstan fulfill its ambitious goals for the use of renewable power sources. The ABD extols the project as the first example of long-term ABD financing for a solar project in Central Asia denominated in local currency. The latter feature of the deal is particularly significant. Since Kazakhstan is a large exporter of hydrocarbons, the tenge is prone to experiencing significant fluctuation in value tied to changes in global oil prices. Thus, tenge-denominated financing will shield the solar project from currency risk, allowing the power it offloads to remain competitively priced in the event of a drop in the price of crude and the concomitant fall in the tenge’s purchasing power. The Baikonur project is also the first example of the ADB co-financing a deal in Kazakhstan’s renewable energy sector with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (ERBD). The latter organization had previously announced their intention to fund Baikonur with a package of loans. $30 million will come directly from the EBRD and $10.4 million will be provided by the Clean Technology Fund, both of which will be denominated in tenge.
The EBRD has a long and successful history with renewables in Kazakhstan. The organization provided financing for Kazakhstan’s first privately-owned renewable-energy power plant, Burnoye Solar-1. The plant, constructed in 2015, is also the first commercial-scale facility generating solar power in the Central Asian nation. The EBRD subsequently stepped up their allocation of financing for solar projects in Kazakhstan, allocating $200 million of financing for private investment through the Kazakhstan Renewables Framework. The Framework supports numerous sub-projects, including the one that bankrolls the Baikonur plant.
In contrast, the ADB has a much more storied history of financing solar power plants in Central Asia. While Baikonur is the ADB’s first solar project in Kazakhstan, the organization had 2 solar projects in neighboring Uzbekistan, both of which have experience significant setbacks. A $100
million project to fund the construction of a solar plant in Sherabad, which received concept clearance in late 2016, was terminated in March 2018. Another ABD project, projected to provide $110 million of funding for a solar plant near Samarkand, received a major blow when Uzbekenergo announced that the project would be suspended. Thus, the ADB can learn from the success of the EBRD in Central Asia by turning some of their attention to Kazakhstan.
All equity in the Baikonur solar plant will be held by the aptly-named Baikonur Solar LLP. The beneficial owners of this vehicle remain unclear. An EBRD news article from March 2018 stated that Baikonur Solar LLP is “a 100 per cent subsidiary of United Green, a privately owned strategic investment group.” However, an ADB press release from March 2019 suggested that Baikonur Solar LLP “is owned by UG Energy Limited and Baiterek Venture Fund Joint Stock Company (BVF), which is a subsidiary of Kazakh sovereign wealth fund Baiterek JSC.” United Green is a rather opaque entity. According to the organization’s website, it was “born from a
family office dating back to the early parts of the 20th Century … United Green is still controlled by the original family and has no institutional parent or investor.” Because it is privately held, United Green does not have reporting requirements like those of publicly traded firms. While its website offers some description of the organization’s activities, it does not offer any information on specific investments. However, it should be noted that United Green has participated in Kazakh solar projects before, being an equity investor in the Burnoye solar plant, among others.
While the opaque ownership structure of United Green, in and of itself, is not necessarily problematic, it does raise questions about the overall transparency with which the deal was negotiated. A document released by the Green Climate Fund suggests that projects in the Kazakhstan Renewables Framework, including the Baikonur project, will sell electricity to power distributors on the basis of a 15-year power purchase agreement (PPA). However, the author of the present article was unable to find a copy of the PPA accessible to the public. This suggests that the specifics of the PPA, including the price at which solar power will be sold to the grid, are not publicly available. This contrasts sharply with other cases of solar investment in Kazakhstan. For example, Kazakh power market operator JSC Korem conducted an auction in October 2018 for solar projects, soliciting 28 proposals from 20 companies. The winning 4 project proposals will receive 15-year PPAs before they begin construction on physical infrastructure. Thus, Korem was able to select the cheapest options from a long list of
possibilities, enabling the power distributor to optimize the cost of investing in new plants. Furthermore, the public was informed about the cost per kWh of electricity from the winning projects, precluding the possibility of dirty dealings by exposing the matter to general scrutiny. Stakeholders in the Baikonur project could emulate this example by publishing additional
information on the project, preferably the entire PPA but at least the price of electricity stipulated in the agreement. In so doing, they can assure that the Baikonur project is held to the highest standards in transparency and accountability.