A major new £500m windfarm in the Thames Estuary is set to make a fortune for its owners – just six years after they were involved in the spectacular collapse of Independent Energy that left investors, lenders and creditors hundreds of millions of pounds out of pocket.
Warwick Energy has been given the go-ahead by the Department of Trade and Industry to develop a 100-turbine wind farm seven miles off Thanet on the Kent coast.
When it comes into commission in 18 months, it will, at 300 megawatts be the largest British offshore windfarm. The project, capable of producing enough power for 240,000 homes, marks a remarkable comeback for the project’s three directors, headed by multi-millionaire John Sulley, who previously ran Independent Energy.
Independent and its directors were sharply criticised when the company went into receivership in 2000, leaving lenders led by Barclays and a string of creditors £340m out of pocket.
Investors were badly burned, too. At its height, Independent Energy was valued at £37 a share or more than £1.5bn. When it collapsed, shareholders were left with nothing, and the business was subsequently sold on to npower for just £9m.
Independent was launched as one of a new breed of energy suppliers competing with the major players. However, it got into financial problems with the failure of its billing systems which left 320,000 customers in chaos for more than a year.
Sulley and operations director Rob Jones attracted sharp criticism for cashing in shares worth almost £4m just six months before Independent’s collapse.
But while US investors subsequently launched multi-million-pound claim against the company, Sulley and Jones were left free to set up Warwick Energy just weeks after Independent’s failure when they were also joined by junior executive Mark Petterson.
Sulley, Jones and Petterson each own a third of Warwick Energy, which is the majority shareholder in Thanet Offshore Wind.
They are now aiming to raise £500m through a mixture of debt and equity via Deutsche Bank, a financing that will still see the trio remain as the single biggest shareholders in the project.
Petterson denied the Independent fiasco casts a shadow over the Thanet project.
‘It was quite a long time ago and we are still dealing with several of the banks involved [in Independent],’ he told the Evening Standard.
The Thanet project was greeted by Industry Secretary Alistair Darling as a milestone in the bid to have 20% of the country’s electricity generated by green energy projects by 2020.
The Thames Estuary will play a key role. The 340-turbine, 1000-megawatt London Array project, which is backed by Shell and E.On and stretches from Margate to Clacton, will be capable of producing enough electricity for a quarter of London’s homes. It should be in commission by the end of the decade.
By Robert Lea, Evening Standard
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