China’s biggest nuclear power generator is preparing to enter Europe’s renewable energy market, snapping up three UK wind farms from French utility EDF in a signal of its intent to build a global generating business.
The move by state-owned China General Nuclear Corporation (CGN), set to be announced on Monday, would be its first big acquisition of onshore wind generating capacity in the west.
The deal also highlights how Chinese companies are investing more in Britain. China’s state companies have bought stakes in sectors from food to travel since David Cameron, British prime minister, visited Beijing on a trade mission last year.
The agreement with EDF could help smooth talks on a bigger deal to build Britain’s first nuclear power plant in a generation, at Hinkley Point in Somerset.
CGN, which generates 55 per cent of China’s nuclear energy output from 11 plants, beat bids from several other generators for the wind farms near York, Newcastle and Peterborough, according to people in the industry.
The Chinese group will pay EDF more than £100m, analysts estimate, for an 80 per cent stake in the sites. Together, the sites generate more than 70 megawatts of electricity – enough to serve nearly 40,000 homes.
EDF will retain a 20 per cent stake in the three wind farms and continue to operate the turbines. It will also buy the electricity generated.
China, which is looking to shift more of its power generation away from coal to cleaner types of fuel, including nuclear, wants to build a strong presence in overseas markets for these energy sources. In the UK, renewables benefit from a subsidy scheme, under which electricity suppliers are obliged to buy a certain amount of such power.
This support has increased the attractiveness of onshore wind and other renewables versus coal and gas-fired plants, because operators receive income at above market prices.
The purchase of the wind farms is CGN’s first move into renewables outside China, apart from a small investment in Australia.
Other Chinese companies have been expanding into European renewables, with China Three Gorges Corporation acquiring wind assets in Portugal and Spain. Ginko Tree, the UK-based investment arm of China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange, also bought a 49 per cent stake in Norway-based Statkraft’s onshore wind portfolio this year.
The deal’s timing is significant: it comes as EDF, one of the Britain’s “big six” energy suppliers, looks to finalise agreement with possible investors, including CGN and China National Nuclear Corporation, on the financing of Hinkley Point C, the new nuclear power plant expected to cost £24.5bn.
The Chinese companies have been pushing for a bigger role in the plant’s construction and want a substantial share of the supply contracts, a demand that has complicated negotiations.
They also want ownership of another nuclear site, at Bradwell in Essex, with the aim of building their own reactor. Discussions over that have been a stumbling block. EDF is aiming to make a final investment decision early next year.
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