The owner of two large solar farms in Australia says he thinks it is impossible to attract new investors to the country, as the image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison wandering around manure in parliament has come under fire in the memory of many international investors.
John Martin, CEO of ASN New Energy Solar, says the new solar investment fund is raising $ 200 million ($ A295 million), but none of the 20 institutional contributors to the fund wanted to invest in it.
"They don't want a bar in Australia," Martin told RenewEconomy after announcing the company's annual results on Wednesday. "Everyone can remember Scott Morrison standing in Parliament with a bunch of coal."
Martin says he asked potential investors if the new fund could only invest part of the money raised in Australia, suggesting 15 per cent, as it did with its early fund where it bought Beryl and Manildra solar projects in Australia and where Martin sees more opportunities because of excellent solar resources in the country.
"They said no. None of that money will ever make it to Australia," Martin says. "The political environment is too difficult," and they preferred the US market, despite the presence of President Donald Trump and his efforts to protect the coal industry.
"They are very sophisticated investors in renewable energy, mostly institutions, and it's hard to get them involved in Australia."
Martin says the issue is complicated because Australian institutions show little interest and understanding of renewable energy projects, perhaps because of the awful environment of federal policy, and long-term solar farm contracts with corporate customers are also relatively difficult to reach.
The average duration of long-term PPAs in Australia for New Energy Solar's portfolio is 12.9 years, but more than 17 years in the US. This leaves Australian projects burdened with more uncertainty about market moves and less attractive to investors. This will affect the prices of solar projects.
Previously, in a Web site, Martin lamented the fact that the debate on renewable energy and climate action in Australia revolves around left to right, green versus conservative or coal to solar.
"It misses the point. It is no longer a question of whether we want renewables or not, are they coming … Australia needs to recognize that change is coming.
"We can try to manage the transition well or have been imposed on us by global trading partners and markets."
Nova Energy Solar has 15 solar power plants and another – a 200MW Mount Signal 2 solar farm in California – is under construction. All but Beryl and Manildre are in the US, where Martin says various states give clear signals for investment.
"The world is changing. It will be a different form of infrastructure to replace coal … and the key component is solar energy, which has lasted more than 30 years, requires no fuel and is poorly maintained. "
Martin says both Australian properties are performing well, but there have been lingering questions at the Manildra plant – which he has built since the failed RCR contractor Tomlinson – related to buildup and converter issues that have reduced several percentage points since production, and which the company hopes will resolve them soon.