The 12 projects of Christmas

Pick up the phone to anyone right now and the first thing you’ll be told is that they’re run off their feet and that the market’s “gangbusters” as everyone pulls together to get deals over the line before the end of the year… or Christmas, if you’re old school.

The “festive season” is well-and-truly upon us and pressure is ramped up to the max to get deals away before the end of the year – ideally before Christmas so people (those for whom this time of year is important) can enjoy a break with the family.

So, as you sit there staring crossed-eyed at a spreadsheet for the umpteenth time, or wade once again through legal documents that get drier with every reading – how about destroying your peace of mind by introducing an earworm that will last for the whole day.

For today’s editorial, we are running through a time-honoured classic of the 12 Days of Christmas, making spurious links to projects around the world that become increasingly tentative as the lyrics are hardly in line with global infrastructure programmes.

Partridge in a pear tree

To set the ball rolling, we have a partridge in a pear tree, which – according to the carol – my true love sent to me. Partridge… pear tree… not a lot to go on there. Perhaps if you speak out of the side of your mouth, you might hear part-bridge.

Immediately you think of Gordie Howe Bridge P3 which is part in the US and part in Canada, though – arguably – with Canada taking all the risk on this project, it should really be classed a Canadian project.

This project kicked around for an age under its old names – Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) and the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) – taking 18 years from completion of cross-border traffic studies to financial close on 28 September.

Having talked over the years to people who have worked on long-running projects, they watched their peer group rise the ranks, change jobs, get married/divorced and sometimes (sadly) even died during these processes.

One thing for sure, you are going to know the people pretty well after sitting across the table for them and when the first shovel hit the ground, it must have felt like the graduation of a favoured child! 

Two turtle doves

Turtle doves… ok, that’s a challenge. A trawl around the extensive IJGlobal database draws a blank and it doesn’t matter how you say “turtle dove”, nothing’s coming to mind.

Go to news and hit search, and you find Turtle Creek wind farm in the US. That’ll do.

Here we have EDPR acquiring the equity from a financial institution in two US wind farms for a cool $267.5 million. Phew. The assets are:

  • Turtle Creek in New York State – 199MW – $193.3 million
  • Arkwright in Iowa – 78MW – $74.2 million

Three French hens

Had this been American hens and not French hens, that would have automatically led to thoughts of Fibrominn and its chicken poop biomass plant in Benson, Minnesota. But it isn’t. They're French hens, which – crowbar ready – brings to mind a fibre-to-home. I know, tentative, but there are three bidders in place to buy a 49.99% stake in this asset!

Altice France at the end of last month entered into exclusive discussions to sell the (only just) minority stake to a consortium of OMERS Infrastructure, Allianz Capital Partners and AXA IM Real Assets, following a competitive auction.

The stake is in SFR FttH, a company that will be created to hold and develop Altice's FttH operations in France in medium- and low-density areas. Altice France will own the majority of shares in the new company.

The consortium of Canadian and European investors is due to pay €1.8 billion for the shares, based on an implied valuation of €3.6 billion for 100% of the equity. 

Four calling birds

Easy. That’s got to be telecoms… and when we say telecoms, we really mean broadband.

Look no further than Ireland’s staggeringly poor attempt to deliver an overly-ambitious investment into a nationwide broadband. Pull up your seat for a sit com that looks set to run… until someone in the Irish government has the good sense to put a bullet in its head.

Denis Naughten resigned from his role as Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment when it was discovered that he had been meeting with the only remaining bidder for the €1.2 billion National Broadband Plan (NBP).

Naughty Naughten held unrecorded meetings with David McCourt, founder and chief executive of Granahan McCourt, the last person standing in the NBP which has seen bidders fall away one after another.

The project involves the build-out of high-speed broadband to 540,000 premises over a 25-year contract – roll-out followed by operations – at the end of which it belongs the to the preferred bidder (not returned to the public sector).

Apart from the government subsidy, the private sector delivery team will have to finance this work through any means it chooses – private capital or internal sources, corporate finance or even project finance.

This is an ocean-going stinker with plans for every house in the country to be able to download stolen movies so fast that hopefully they won’t be caught.

This project is beset with issues, not least of which was the government undermining the whole process by signing a deal with Eir to connect 300,000 rural homes with broadband… while the project is still being competed.

Five gold rings

Let’s go for a ring road here. Tentative, yes. But ticks a box. For this, let’s take a look down under at Melbourne’s North East Link Tunnels PPP which the government state of Victoria launched last month.

The Daniel Andrews-led Labor administration wasted no time after winning the state election and brought the project – a large section of which is the completion of the ring road between Eastern Freeway and the M80 Ring Road – to market in quick order.

The A$7-9 billion availability-based PPP (state retaining revenue from tolls) project – named the Primary Package – involves construction of road tunnels under residential properties and the Yarra riverbed. Procurement of this PPP concession is due to take around 18 months.

Six geese a-laying

Closest we can is the Golden Goose project in Paraguay where they are harnessing energy from the world’s largest dam to power what is being touted as the world’s largest cryptocurrency mining centre and exchange. It will be powered by the state-owned Itaipú hydroelectric dam under a 15-year contract.

Itaipú cost $17.4 billion to construct and has a total capacity of 14GW across its 20 units. It will supply five cryptocurrency mining centres to be built in Ciudad del Este by South Korean blockchain venture led by the Commons Foundation and Sisay.

Golden Goose is supported by the Paraguayan government which is providing five plots of land for the mining centres and their ancillary infrastructure, as well as hinting at tax breaks for the cryptocurrency miners.

Itaipú hydro itself is owned by the governments of Paraguay and Brazil, but most of its output is consumed in the larger of the two countries, with as sales agreement benefiting the Paraguayan government.

Seven swans a-swimming

What else could this be other than the £1.3 billion Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon in Wales which the UK government effectively scrapped in June when it refused to include it in the CfD programme.

While there were some environmental concerns over this ambitious project, it's a crying shame to see it fall by the wayside having been awarded development consent in 2015.

The 320MW tidal lagoon was to be powered by 16 hydro turbines set within a 9.5km breakwater wall and the key partners in the delivery company – Tidal Lagoon Power – are Atkins, General Electric, Andritz Hydro, Laing O’Rourke and Alun Griffiths.

However, a glimmer of hope remains for this project as Swansea Council and Swansea Bay City Region have invited private backers to deliver it. Nobody’s holding their breath on this project, though… magnificent as it would have been.

Eight maids a-milking

Drawing a blank on milk… but maids. We can work with that. I give you Seamade, the 487MW Belgian offshore wind farm that made it to financial close earlier this month.

A consortium of Otary, Electrabel and Eneco closed €1 billion debt provided by the EIB, EKF and a club of 15 banks. EKF is covering €100 million of the €804 million commercial debt, with the remainder uncovered.

Seamade is an amalgam of two projects that were combined to reach financial close and is the last of the Belgian offshore wind farms to go be procured with subsidies.

Nine ladies dancing

Dancing ladies – again – nothing. However it does rather put one in mind of twirling and that takes us on to technology in the renewables space.

I introduce SeaTwirl – a company with new style of wind turbine that could be as impactful as floating turbines… if it is as good as we are being told.

The company has signed a deal for a potential PPA with Haugaland Kraft for electricity produced from the SeaTwirl S2 turbine that is currently under development.

SeaTwirl S2 is due to be installed in 2020 with several sites under evaluation, and the Haugesund site in south west Norway has been identified for its first deployment. Haugaland Kraft has agreed to buy all power produced if this site is chosen.

SeaTwirl's turbine is a full-scale unit with a turbine effect of 1MW, but with fewer moving parts – leading to more operative hours and lower maintenance costs, according to the company.

Ten lords a-leaping

This is one of the few stanzas from this Christmas carol that can comfortably be shoe-horned into an infrastructure parallel, having seen Lord Adonis exit the UK National Infrastructure Commission at the start of this year.

In a wonderful turn of fortune (for the sake of this piece), the beautifully-named Lord Adonis leapt before he was pushed from NIC citing insurmountable differences with the government over Brexit.

But there was more to it than that, his Lordship was also – understandably – irked by the decision of transport secretary Chris Grayling (curiously still in this role) to allow the Stagecoach/Virgin East Coast rail franchise to end three years early.

To be frank, he could have leapt for any number of reasons when it comes to UK infrastructure investment, having been at the organisation since 2015 and seen precious little development in UK in that time.

Lord Adonis was replaced by Sir John Armitt in January, a step-down in nobility but a good choice given that he was previously chief exec of Network Rail, president of the Institution of Civil Engineers and chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority for the 2012 London Olympics.

Sticking with ennobled infrastructure characters-a-leaping, how about Sir Terry Morgan who resigned earlier this week from his role as chairman of the UK’s biggest – and arguably only – transport projects: Crossrail and HS2.

Sir Terry chose to fall on his sword over delays to the Elizabeth Line which had been due to open this month, but is now delayed until autumn. Ten months late… that’s nothing new for your average London commuter.

Eleven pipers piping

Piping. Puts you in mind of… pipelines. Here’s an interesting one from this autumn – the acquisition by Wren House of North Sea Midstream Partners (NSMP) for £1.2-1.3 billion. We understand that this is the first deal of this sort that Wren House has done on its own.

The assets comprise St Fergus gas reception and processing facilities in north east Scotland; 362km Frigg UK pipeline (FUKA) delivering gas to the St Fergus terminal; and a 67% operated interest in the 234km Shetland Islands Regional Gas Export System (SIRGES).

Post-acquisition good news for Wren House arrived on the same day as the transaction closed at the same time Total announced a major North Sea gas discovery. The French oil and gas major struck it rich on the Glendronach prospect west of Shetland.

Twelve drummers drumming

Nyah – I give up. This is exhausting.

Merry Christmas one and all.