Suntien wary as wind power drive stalls

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 August, 2011, 12:00am

Wind farm-operator and natural gas distributor China Suntien Green Energy has taken a more cautious view of wind power generation capacity expansion since state power distribution giant State Grid Corporation temporarily stopped providing grid connections to new wind farms earlier this year.

The Hebei provincial government-controlled firm said in April it planned to commission 400 to 500 megawatts (MW) of new wind power capacity this year, but vice-president Sun Xin Tian last Thursday said he expects only 400MW to come on stream by the end of the year.

Suntien added no new capacity in the first half of the year. Its installed capacity stood at 855MW on June 30, the same as at the end of last year and 41 per cent higher than a year-earlier.

'It is normal for us not to add new capacity in the first half of the year since we normally start operations in the first-half and completion is scheduled before year-end,' said Sun. 'That said, it would be difficult for us to achieve 500MW of new capacity this year.'

Wind power capacity on the mainland has at least doubled in each of the four years to 2009, but a rush by developers and lax approval procedures meant State Grid struggled to build power lines fast enough to meet demand. As a result, over a quarter of installed wind power capacity sat idle waiting for grid connection.

Most mainland wind turbines also lacked so-called low voltage ride-through (LVRT) - the capability of turbines to stay operational and connected to the power grid even after a severe drop in voltage caused by a fault or load change in the grid.

This saw multiple incidences of simultaneous sudden connection drop-outs of hundreds of wind turbines, threatening instability of the entire regional power grid system.

State Grid subsequently issued strict rules on wind farm hardware specifications and required compliance by the end of next year.

Sun said he expected State Grid to resume providing grid connections to new wind farms soon, and added that Suntien has about 300MW of new projects which have obtained all necessary government approvals but are waiting for grid connection.

To address disorderly development in the sector, the National Energy Commission will soon require developers to obtain its approval for all new mainland wind power projects, the official China Securities Journal reported last month. Previously, developers circumvented Beijing's scrutiny by splitting projects into chunks of 49.5MW projects, since projects of less than 50MW could be approved by provincial governments without going through Beijing.

'There will be some impact on the pace of new project development, but it will not be major,' Sun said. 'As long as we fulfil the technical requirements, new projects should still be able to join the national projects pipeline, albeit with some delays.'

The commission recently announced a first-phase approved new project pipeline of 26,000MW, of which 3,200MW is located in Hebei. For Suntien, 450 MW of projects in Hebei and 50 MW in other regions got the green-light in this round of approval.

Daiwa Securities analyst Dave Dai wrote in a research note that this could put Suntien's goal to add an average of 500MW of new wind capacity annually at risk. 'Our research in the market suggests that locally- focused players will be disadvantaged compared with national players in terms of competing for approvals,' he noted.

Suntien last Wednesday posted a 131 per cent year-on-year jump in first-half net profit to 340 million yuan (HK$414 million). It was better than analysts' expectations, but Dai believes the second-half profit is unlikely to exceed that of the first due to rising finance, operating and maintenance costs.

BOC International analyst Peter Yao Sheng noted first-half finance costs were lower than expected since more interest expenses were capitalised. But they may be expensed in the future and pare profits later.


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