Why did Tractebel stop bidding in the Middle East market in late 2002?

Our parent, [France’s] Suez Group, put in place an action plan, the main objective of which was to reduce debt exposure. This was driven by the absence of liquidity on the global market, in turn driven by problems in the international economy. To reduce debt, the company was looking at fewer opportunities worldwide. Now that the action plan has been completed, Tractebel is again looking for openings, although in a conservative manner.

What are the particular attractions of the region for developers?

Middle East projects offer a predictable rate of return, which can offset riskier but more lucrative opportunities elsewhere. Developers get long-term PPAs [power purchase agreements] with creditworthy governments carrying investment-grade ratings. And the revenues are dollar-denominated, insulating us from exchange rate risk. We have been in the region for more than 10 years – going back to the Al-Manah project in Oman – so we are very accustomed to dealing with the region’s governments. And there are multiple opportunities opening up there at the moment. Obviously the long-term political problems in the Middle East are something we constantly assess, but the countries where we are active are very stable.

Having just signed up for both the Al-Ezzal independent power project (IPP) in Bahrain and the Sohar independent water and power project (IWPP) in Oman, what are the particular attractions of these projects?

In Bahrain, we got a 20-year PPA from the government, which has a very good sovereign credit rating, and, again, revenues are dollar-denominated. The kingdom has a well established legal framework. It diversifies our regional portfolio, but that was not a major factor in our going for the project, which was assessed on its own merits. The process was very smooth and transparent, with the Ministry [of Finance & National Economy] hitting all its deadlines. In Oman, we got a 15-year PPA and it is a market we know well.

Some of the competitors were surprised at your price on Al-Ezzal, which was 16 per cent lower than your nearest rival. What would be your response?

To put together such a bid, you need competitive EPC [engineering, procurement and construction], O&M [operation and maintenance] and financing prices. Our Al-Ezzal bid met Tractebel’s normal internal profitability criteria.

Are there enough developers and EPC contractors to ensure a competitive market?

There was some talk among developers about a year ago about capacity and some concerns were expressed on the government side in Oman, but then Al-Ezzal got five bids and Sohar got four, which suggests that there isn’t a problem. We have had no troubles finding good EPC contractors.

What are you looking at next? Is there a certain balance you look for between greenfield and brownfield projects?

We are still looking at the documents for the Shouaiba and Marafiq [Power & Water Utilities Company for Jubail & Yanbu] IWPPs [for which requests for proposal were issued in July] in Saudi Arabia and we will look at the pros and cons of each before deciding whether to bid on one or both. We submitted a bid for UAE’s Taweelah B and came second highest to [Japan’s] Marubeni [Corporation]. There is no particular balance we are looking for in the region between greenfield and brownfield. Again, each project is looked at on its own merits.