Business Irish

Saturday 23 August 2014

Chinese backers fund Mainstream's €6bn project

Eddie O'Connor signs mega-deal

Roisin Burke

Published 27/01/2013 | 05:00

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Mainstream Renewable Power, the alternative energy company started by Airtricity millionaire Eddie O'Connor, has agreed provisional contracts backed by Chinese state money for its €6bn 'energy bridge' project.

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Mainstream is seeking to build a massive underwater cable, the 5,000 megawatt energy bridge, that would deliver over €2bn of wind energy from Ireland to the British market. It would be one of the biggest projects ever under taken on an international scale, according to Mr O'Connor.

The company has agreed memorandums of understanding with REN, a Portuguese utility giant that is 40 per cent owned by China's State Grid International and Oman Oil.

Project finance of 70-80 per cent would be sought, with an equity deal making up the remainder of an agreement.

Mainstream will also seek finance for further wind power plant development in Ireland, to fund a circa €7bn long-term project cost to develop plants, grids and turbines.

Near term Mainstream will need €172m funding and equity deals.

"Although we have strong relationships with the banks since the Airtricity days, I don't think they are capable of lending at the moment, so we would look to big pension funds, big insurance companies for further funding," said Mr O'Connor.

Even with the freshly inked Irish government deal to supply wind energy to Britain signed last Thursday, the success of future projects depends on government incentives being good enough, Mr O'Connor says.

"You need a guarantee that a certain price will be paid for electricity, to reduce the risk, a better REFIT (Renewable Energy Feed in Tariff – a price guarantee to incentivise alternative energy providers).

"That would make a power purchase agreement with a big utility company with a significant balance sheet committing to buy power for 20 years possible."

Mainstream has wind and solar energy developments dotted around the world, including the US, South Africa, Chile and Britain. In Ireland a plant in Co Kerry has been completed and building is ongoing in Leitrim.

Mr O'Connor says Mainstream has already raised €274m in funding, from a mix of high net worth individuals who reinvested after making money on Airtricity, €60m from Macquarie Group, a €40m loan note from Dolmen and investment from Barclays.

"Developing a windfarm takes 10 years. You need patient money," he says.

Mr O'Connor has previously said Mainstream will be profitable towards the end of 2012 but the challenging economic climate has slowed progress. He said he expects the company to be driving profits in 2014. A €1bn stock exchange float on the Hong Kong market is still in the pipeline, possibly in 2014.

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