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Beijing's tariff move takes shine off solar stocks

Concerns grow over returns on solar projects as Beijing plans to cut charges

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 March, 2013, 5:33am

Solar stocks fell after a media report said Beijing planned to reduce power tariffs it allowed solar farms to charge, raising concerns that it might be more inclined to drive equipment makers to cut costs and consolidate than boost demand through incentives.

Beijing planned to allow solar farms in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region to collect up to 85 fen (HK$1.05) per kilowatt-hour (kWh) from power distributors, the Shanghai Securities News reported, citing a consultation paper to be circulated to the industry.

Operators in other sunshine-rich regions like Gansu, Qinghai, Ningxia and Inner Mongolia would be given a top power tariff of 75 to 85 fen per kWh, while those in Tibet could charge up to 95 fen, it added. The top price in all other regions is one yuan.

Currently, Beijing gives an on-grid tariff of one yuan per kWh for solar power projects in all regions, although some local governments give extra subsidies.

Shares in China Singyes Solar Technologies, which installs off-grid systems for solar project owners, fell 16.8 per cent to HK$8.05. Even so, they remain up by 78 per cent over the past year on optimism that the firm would benefit from government incentives to spur solar power demand.

GCL-Poly Energy, the world's largest maker of raw materials for solar panels, fell 3.8 per cent to HK$2.04.

Charles Yonts, head of sustainable research at CLSA, attributed the fall in Singyes to profit-taking after a sentiment-driven rally. But he warned that projects in the most sunshine-rich areas might only break even at best at the suggested tariffs under consultation, against projected returns of 8 to 10 per cent at the current tariff of one yuan per kWh.

This means that unless prices of solar parts and panels drop substantially, most new projects will not be viable and Beijing's ambition to add 10gigawatts of new solar farms in the five years to 2015 may be in doubt.

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