International Power: Regional powerhouse

07 April 2006

Ranald Spiers was playing host in late January. The chief executive officer (CEO) of the Middle East & Africa division of International Power (IP) was entertaining a group of city analysts, who were in the UAE to learn more about the UK developer's growing asset portfolio in the Gulf. In addition to presentations on the regional power and desalination market and IP's six projects in five GCC countries, the guests visited Shuweihat in western Abu Dhabi, the site of the company's first independent water and power project (IWPP) in the Gulf.

The Middle East analyst's visit underlined the growing importance of the region to IP's business and shareholders. 'The Middle East is the growth area for us,' says Spiers. 'As a company we have to show growth. And other than making a big acquisition, this is the best area for organic growth.'

Today, IP has net generating assets worldwide of more than 18,000 MW either in operation or under construction. Of the total, the Middle East's share, accounted for by its six GCC projects, stands at 2,214 MW. The region also provides 100 million gallons a day (g/d) of net desalination capacity, making the company one of the largest private developers of desalinated water in the world.

Its Middle East business is not only growing fast - last year, regional profits were up by 20 per cent - it also provides balance to IP's asset base, both geographically and in terms of contract type. Unlike in its three core markets of Europe, the US and Australia, where contracts are merchant based and thus susceptible to wild tariff fluctuations, the Gulf provides certainty of revenues through long-term offtake arrangements with quasi-government entities.

The Gulf remains a relatively new market for international developers. IP only won its first project, Oman's Al-Kamil independent power project (IPP) in Oman, in 2000. Since then, it has managed to add one new IPP or IWPP to its portfolio every year, reflecting both its competitiveness in the developer market and the growing acceptance among utilities of the private power model.

'The argument for private power has been won across the Gulf,' says Spiers. 'It is the quickest, least costly way to put in capacity provided you don't have too much regulation in place. If you look at the prices Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Qatar have been getting for new capacity, it is lowest cost at $400-500 a kilowatt. You don't get that anywhere. The client is getting a tremendous deal.'

As one of the top three international developers in the region, IP's services are much in demand. As of early April, it was preparing bids for three more IWPPs - Mesaieed in Qatar, Oman's Barka 2 and Marafiq's Jubail project in Saudi Arabia, as well as working on reaching financial close for the Hidd IWPP in Bahrain.

'We tend to try and bid for almost everything above 250 MW, although sometimes it is not possible. These bids take a lot of time and people. Our policy is to make sure we have enough people for the base load and if there is a peak demand we will pull in more resources from our global operations,' says Spiers.

Increasingly, the size and number of projects is leading IP to forge partnerships with rival developers to bid for work. Its partnering strategy is pragmatic. 'We select the right ones to win the project,' he says. 'The basic premise is a simple partnership, involving not too many players, and wherever possible, someone local.'

On the recently won Hidd IWPP, IP teamed up with Belgium's Suez Tractebel, the one international developer present in the Bahraini market, and Sumitomo Corporation, which has more than 30 years of experience in the kingdom. The involvement of the Japanese company also gave the bidding group access to low-cost financing from Japan Bank for International Co-operation (JBIC).

'JBIC does provide a lot of debt at a very competitive rate, but the banks are also now very aggressive in terms

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