This Scottish offshore wind farm – in gaelic meaning ‘Might of the Wind’ – saw a decade pass between development rights being awarded in 2009 and reaching financial close. After years of legal challenges and vacillating subsidy challenges, the raising of construction debt and an equity sell-down were eventually completed concurrently for Neart na Gaoithe.
Mainstream was first awarded exclusivity rights to develop the project, which at the time was a £1.1 billion and 360MW offshore wind farm, in 2009. Awarded by the Crown Estate as part of a competitive bidding process, Mainstream beat 14 private development consortia and stated they expected construction to begin in 2014.
The Scottish government earmarked the site as one of only six in the Scottish territorial waters suitable for development.
Then in 2012 Mainstream changed its plans and sought consent to scale up the project capacity to 450MW, with costs rising to £1.4 billion, with the intention of selling an equity stake to investors for a 2013 financial close.
UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change in December 2013 announced that Neart na Goithe qualified to be one of the first projects eligible to apply for a contract for difference (CfD) through the renewable energy support scheme.
However, the project failed to win-early stage state support in January 2014 and changed course to apply for 20-year state support under the outgoing Renewables Obligation scheme – with a June 2014 deadline to have all debt and equity commitments in place.
The UK government then turned back on its decision and awarded NnG a 15-year CfD in March 2015 at the inflation-linked strike price of £114.39/MWh.
But, like the swing of a metronome, the UK government dropped the subsidy for the wind farm in March 2016 citing failed deadlines to arrange the financing for the project.
Mainstream ardently fought back and a tribunal investigation overturned the decision to drop the state subsidy, returning the CfD to the wind farm on the same terms – concluding the subsidy saga in March 2017.
Between the time of receiving the subsidy, Mainstream was dealing with another headache from the project – alongside 2.3GW of other Scottish offshore projects in development – losing its planning permissions as the Scottish courts ruled the projects presented a risk to wildlife.
Mainstream attempted to begin a sales process, while the project was still dogged by legal issues, going far as to enter exclusive discussions with a consortium comprised of InterGen, Siemens Project Ventures, Marguerite Fund and InfraRed Capital.
This was put on hold due to the loss of planning permission around the birds and issues surrounding the subsidy.
Mainstream reopened the sale in 2017 – which was at this point priced at £2 billion – hiring KPMG to find an equity partner.
Binding bids were due in February 2018 and the project was finally acquired by EDF Renewables for €600 million ($718.1 million) in May 2018 who quickly opened up the project to fresh investors in October.
It signed a debt package with 25 financial institutions in August 2019 and entered exclusive negotiations with Irish utility ESB to take a 50% stake. KMPG advised EDFR on the sales process and Société Générale advised EDFR on the debt raise.
As a result, Neart na Gaoithe was ready to be constructed by the time of financial close with a new equity partner in place.
The £1.6 billion ($2.1 billion) project finance debt has singed on EDF Renewables' 450MW Neart na Gaoithe offshore wind farm in Scotland with a club of 25 lenders on 26 November (2019).
Equity investment of around £400 million is supported by the primary senior debt facility and an EKF-covered tranche. In addition to EKF, 24 commercial banks participated on the transaction:
- Bank of China
- BNP Paribas
- Credit Agricole
- DZ Bank
- KfW IPEX-Bank
- MUFG Bank
- Siemens Bank
- Société Générale
Pricing on the senior debt starts at 130bp above Libor, stepping up to 140bp. It has a tenor of 15 years plus construction, and the debt package has a debt cover service ratio (DSCR) of 1.4x.
ESB is acquiring its 50% stake with equity provided by the Government of Ireland. The deal has yet to close but it is understood that ESB paid a high premium – around half the price of the entire project costs.
After a rocky decade of trying to get the project going, construction of the components is now underway. Offshore construction will start in June 2020 and full commissioning will be completed in 2023.
Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy will provide 54x 8MW turbines. The turbines foundations will be supplied and installed by Saipem. Two electrical substations will be supplied by GE Renewable Energy Grid Solutions and HSM BV.
Two 37km long export cables connecting the substations to Thorntonloch Beach in East Lothian will be provided by Prysmian SRL.
The engineering, procuring, constructing and installing of the inter-turbines cables with offshore installation expected in 2021 will be carried out by Deme Offshore. The layout will include 12 separate 66kV array strings connecting the turbines to the electrical substations.
Fred Olsen Windcarrier will transport and install the turbines with offshore installation expected in 2022.
All of the project’s 54 turbines will be assembled at the Port of Dundee before being sailed to the site and the Scottish engineering firm BiFab will build a number of the foundation jackets.
Advisers to the sponsors EDF Renewables:
- Société Générale – borrower's financial adviser led by Nathalie Lemarcis and Paul-Antoine Thiebot
- Linklaters – borrower's legal adviser led by Richard Coar
- Sheppard and Wedderburn – borrower's Scottish legal adviser
- BDO – model audit provider
Advisers to lenders:
- Clifford Chance – legal
- Burness Paul – Scottish legal
- Wood – technical
- Benatar –insurance
- Baringa – market
Advisers for buyers ESB:
- KMPG – financial
- CMS – legal, led by Charles Currier, Munir Hassan
- K2 Management – technical
- Nomura – M&A