Category Archives: Vietnam – Energy

Energy projects regulations

COVID-19 GUIDANCE FOR BUSINESSES IN VIETNAM: FORCE MAJEURE EVENTS AND E-SIGNATURES

The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to many questions regarding force majeure and e-signatures. In particular, parties to commercial contracts are keen to know (i) whether they can be released from liabilities by relying on a force majeure clause and (ii) whether they can execute contracts by electronic signatures instead of the traditional “wet ink” signatures which have become almost impossible in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  1. Force majeure

 A force majeure event under Vietnamese law

Vietnamese law defines force majeure in Article 156.1 of the Civil Code as “an event which occurs in an objective manner which is not foreseeable and which is not able to be remedied by all possible necessary and admissible measures being taken”.

For contracts that have been entered into prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, affected parties will have to prove that the pandemic satisfies all three components of a force majeure event in order to rely on this statutory right. The first two can be easily met – the corona virus is an objective event that cannot be foreseen. However, the trickiest part for parties would be the last component – whether the party has taken all reasonable measures to prevent the effect of the pandemic on their performance of the contract. This is a subjective test, and will need to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis taking actual facts into account.

  1. The effect of a force majeure event

The effect of a force majeure event is that the affected party who fails to perform its obligation under a contract will be released from liabilities. The relevant provisions are Article 351.2 of the Civil Code 2015 and Article 294.1 of the Commercial Law 2005 as quoted below:

Article 351.2 of the Civil Code 2015:

Where an obligor fails to perform correctly an obligation due to a force majeure event, it shall not have civil liability unless otherwise agreed or otherwise provided by law.

Article 294.1 of the Commercial Law 2005:

A defaulting party will be exempt from liability upon occurrence of a force majeure event.

The wording of Article 294.1 of the Commercial Law 2005 does not explicitly require a causal link between a force majeure event and the default of the affected party. However, logically speaking, to be released from liabilities, the fault should be caused by a force majeure event. It is also worth noting that according to the Commercial Law 2005, in order to be released from liabilities, the affected party is required to (i) immediately notify the other party in writing of the force majeure event and the potential consequences of such event; and (ii) promptly notify the other party when the force majeure event ceases to exist.

Regarding the possibility to terminate a contract, neither the Civil Code 2015 nor the Commercial Law 2005 allows parties to terminate a contract due to a force majeure event. However, the Commercial Law 2005 allows an extension of the deadline for the performance of a contract, and a refusal to perform a contract in the event of a prolonged event. The affected party who refuses to perform the contract due to a prolonged force majeure event must notify the other party of its refusal to perform the contract within ten days from the expiry date of the extended deadline for performance of the affected party’s obligations and before the other party commences to perform its contractual obligations.

  1. Alternative approaches for affected party due to COVID-19

Besides a force majeure event, an alternative approach for parties to consider in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic is fundamental changes clauses provided by Article 420 of the Civil Code 2015. Article 420 the performance of a contract under a fundamental change of conditions, which is quite similar to hardship clauses in other civil jurisdictions. Specifically, a circumstance is deemed fundamentally changed when the following elements are met:

  • The change occurs due to objective reasons after the execution of the contract. The COVID-19 pandemic would seem, prima facie, to satisfy this element;
  • At the time of contract execution, the parties could not foresee any change in circumstances. Contracts executed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic would also seem to satisfy this element;
  • There is such a fundamental change in circumstances that if the parties had known in advance, they would not have executed the contract, or might have executed it but with completely different content. This element is likely to be satisfied as well;
  • The continued performance of the contract without an amendment would cause serious damage to one party. The satisfaction of this element would depend on specific facts of each case; and
  • The affected party has taken all necessary measures in its capability in accordance with the nature of the contract but it still cannot prevent, mitigate the impact on its interest. The satisfaction of this element would also depend on specific facts of each case.

A key difference between a force majeure event and a fundamental change, which is also what might make proving the COVID-19 pandemic to be a fundamental change easier than a force majeure event, is that, with respect to the former, affected parties need to prove that the contractual performance is impossible while, for the latter, affected parties only need to prove that the performance of the contract is possible but with substantial disadvantages to the affected party.

In the event of a fundamental change regulated by Article 420, affected parties may request the other party to re-negotiate the contract within a reasonable period of time. Where the parties to the contract cannot agree on amendment to the contract as such, either party may request a court to:

  • terminate the contract at a specified time; or
  • amend the contract to balance the rights and benefits of the parties;

Of note, the court is only permitted to decide on the amendment to the contract where the termination of such contract would cause loss and damages greater than the costs for the performance of the contract when amended.

  1. Rewriting force majeure clauses

Proving any pandemic, the COVID-19 as analyzed above for an example, is onerous and requires a lot of efforts from affected parties while the outcome is unpredictable as ever. That is why we have seen plenty of new drafting around force majeure terms expressly referencing to pandemic in general and the COVID-19 in particular, as below for an example, which is highly recommended to be incorporated into contracts to be entered into.

Force Majeure Event means an event that wholly or partly prevents or delays the performance of obligations and/or the adherence to deadlines or time periods arising under this Agreement and shall include, without limitation, an act of God, explosion, accident, fire, lighting, earthquake, storms, flood or similar cataclysmic occurrence; an act of war , blockade, insurrection, lockouts, or other labor difficulties; restrictions or restraints imposed by law or by rule, regulations or order of any deferral, state or local government, governmental agency or quasi-governmental agency; a pandemic; COVID-19 (Coronavirus)-related events, including, by way of example but not limitation, quarantines, third party vendor shut downs, business shut downs, and travel restrictions; action or failure to act of any federal, state or local government, governmental agency or quasi-governmental agency; and interruption or other loss of utilities due to causes beyond the reasonable control of the Purchaser.”

  1. E-signatures

Under the Law on Electronic Transactions 2005, an e-signature is defined as being created in the form of words, script, numerals, symbols, sounds or in other forms by electronic means, logically attached or associated with a data massage, and being capable of identifying the person who has signed the data message, and being capable of identifying the consent of that signatory to the contents of the signed data message.

The law also provides that parties to a transaction have the right to agree to use or not to use an e-signature to execute data messages (e.g. a soft copy of a contract exchanged via emails) unless otherwise regulated by the law. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is advisable that parties explicitly agree on the e-signatures having the same validity of “wet ink” signatures. Internationally we have seen new drafting around e-signatures as below, for an example:

The words “execution,” “signed,” “signature,” and words of like import in this Agreement shall be deemed to include electronic signatures which shall be of the same legal effect, validity or enforceability as a manually executed signature, to the extent and as provided for in all applicable law.”

Notwithstanding the agreement of the parties on the validity of e-signatures, according to Article 24.1 of the Law on Electronic Transactions, e-signatures must satisfy the following conditions in order to have same legal effect with a “wet ink” signatures:

  • The method of creating the e-signatures permit the identification of the signatory and to verify his/her approval of the contents of the data message; and
  • Such method is sufficiently reliable and appropriate for the purposes for which the data message was originated and exchanged.

In addition, Article 21.2 of Law on Electronic Transactions also generally requires e-signatures to satisfy the following “safety” conditions:

  • The data used to create an e-signature is owned only by the signatory;
  • The data used to create an e-signature is under the control of only the signatory at the time of signing;
  • All changes to an e-signature after the time of signing is detectable; and
  • All changes to the contents of the data message after the time of signing is detectable

As all these conditions are vague and may give rise to uncertainty, a practical solution is to resort to third-party certification service providers. Enterprises/individuals can register their e-signatures with such service providers and will receive a certificate of validity of the respective e-signatures.

All analysis aside however, Vietnam remains an ‘old school’ jurisdiction for the time being and, where possible to obtain wet signatures on contracts and contract related documents such as formal notices it remains advisable to do so.

For more information, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com or Dang Ngoc Huyen at HDang@@duanemorris.com or any of the lawyers in our office listing. Giles is Chairman of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC and branch director of Duane Morris’ HCMC office.

Vietnam’s renewable energy industry amid COVID-19: facts, force majeure and (patchy) Government support

Vietnam’s renewable energy development over the past three or so years can variously be described as frenetic, chaotic and heartening. Look past all the noise about non-bankable agreements, insufficient transmission infrastructure and bureaucratic black holes, and it’s clear the market has spoken. Vietnam currently has the largest installed solar capacity in Southeast Asia and is taking strides on wind too. Between May and July 2019, an incredible 82 ground mounted solar plants were connected to the national grid (total of 4,464 MW), more than 400% the target that had been set for 2020. The Ministry of Industry and Trade recently announced that the country is aiming to boost power output produced by renewable energy to about 23% by 2030.

The sector as a whole is also poised on the brink of a new phase. Feed in tariffs are coming to an end, low hanging fruit projects have been developed and local banks’ capacity to continue to finance development is stressed. Meanwhile, energy demand rises steadily and right-minded global citizens are clamoring for an end to coal and a rapid transition to renewable energy sources.

Into this heady mix arrived a novel corona virus and the disease known as COVID-19.

For all the momentum, the clean-energy sectors – solar, wind, energy storage, and companies transforming the power grid – will not escape the COVID-19 impact. They face serious questions across the board: from supply chain issues to workforce shortages, to more macro questions about the economy, energy demand and availability of finance.

New FiT announcement for solar does little to calm waters

Which is why the Prime Minister’s Decision 13 on 6 April 2020 announcing the new solar power feed in tariffs was both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, the market finally has long-awaited certainty over revenue stream. On the other hand, the COD deadline to qualify for the new tariffs – 31 December 2020 – is like a bad joke. See more about this here: https://blogs.duanemorris.com/vietnam/2020/04/07/solar-fit-2-finally-announced-in-vietnam-but-strict-timeline-remains/

In fairness, the 31 December 2020 deadline had been flagged for some time, but the long delay in making it formal, only to finally issue the Decision in a period of unprecedented global chaos and lockdown, with a deadline just 8 months away, almost seems cruel.

Module production facilities in Vietnam usually carry one or two months of supplementary materials inventory on-site. If production interruptions lasts longer than one month, factories in Vietnam will start to see supply shortages that will reduce their production output. Developers waiting for module delivery from mainland China in the second quarter of 2020 will very likely not see the orders delivered on time. Late module delivery will affect project construction schedules around the world, and projects with Q3 and Q4 2020 targets are likely to be hit particularly hard.

In other words, if you are a ground-mounted solar developer in Vietnam today and had been waiting for certainty of revenue stream before pulling the trigger on procurement (let alone land clearance costs), good luck.

Wind makes out better

Similar to the solar industry, COVID-19 has already interrupted the supply chain for wind power plants, which will lead to commissioning delays. Leading turbines suppliers have already announced delays in delivery dates for turbines and other essential equipment citing force majeure clauses in supply contracts.

Looking past supply, the longer strict public health measures stay in place, the more likely it is that equipment prices will be impacted as well.

At least for wind power projects, Vietnam’s Government seems to be listening. As a result of the COVID-19 situation and pleas from investors, on 9 April 2020, the Ministry of Industry and Trade proposed to the Prime Minister a FiT extension for wind projects until 31 December 2023 (a substantial 2+ years extension on the current deadline of 1 November 2021). The MOIT proposes in Official Letter 2491 that a new FiT should apply from1 November 2021 to 31 December 2023 and thereafter wind power tariffs should be subject to auction.

It remains to be seen if the MOIT proposal will be accepted and if prompt action is not taken, foreign clean energy development companies may withdraw from the wind and solar power market because of the possible negative impacts of COVID-19 on their global operations. Vietnam may lose investment disproportionately because it is considered a high-risk market. The virus could also make it harder to keep wind and solar farms up and running, due to travel bans and maintenance delays.

COVID-19 re-writes force majeure clauses

Where coronavirus causes business disruption, from fulfillment of deliveries to cancellation of events, a common question is whether commercial parties can rely on force majeure clauses in their contracts.

Vietnamese law defines force majeure in Article 56 of the Civil Code: “An event of force majeure is an event which occurs in an objective manner which is not able to be foreseen and which is not able to be remedied by all possible necessary and admissible measures being taken”.

For contracts that have been entered into prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, project developers will have to prove that the pandemic satisfies all three components of a force majeure event in order to rely on this statutory right. The first two can be easily met – the corona virus is an objective event that cannot be foreseen. However the trickiest part for developers would be the last component – whether the developer has taken all reasonable measures to prevent the effect of the pandemic on their project. This is a subjective test, and will need to be analyzed on a case-to-case basis taking actual facts into account.

Internationally, we see plenty of new drafting around force majeure terms expressly referencing COVID-19. An example is:

“Force Majeure Event means an event that wholly or partly prevents or delays the performance of obligations and/or the adherence to deadlines or time periods arising under this Agreement and shall include, without limitation, an act of God, explosion, accident, fire, lighting, earthquake, storms, flood or similar cataclysmic occurrence; an act of war, blockade, insurrection, riot, civil disturbance, sabotage, strikes, lockouts, or other labor difficulties; restrictions or restraints imposed by law or by rule, regulation or order of any federal, state or local government, governmental agency or quasi-governmental agency; a pandemic; COVID-19 (Coronavirus)-related events, including, by way of example but not limitation, quarantines, third party vendor shut downs, business shut downs, and travel restrictions; action or failure to act of any federal, state or local government, governmental agency or quasi-governmental agency; and interruption or other loss of utilities due to causes beyond the reasonable control of the Purchaser.”

Even though the force majeure clauses in standard wind and solar PPA do cover epidemic, they do not refer to epidemic-related events caused by third parties or those within the control of the government (government FM events). Since the power purchaser in Vietnam (EVN) is a State-owned enterprise, this raises the concern of EVN relying on government FM events to exempt itself from obligation. The lack of distinction emphasized between natural FM events and government FM events in the standard clauses, and the lack of expansion on the general reference to “epidemic”, puts power developers in a fragile spot amid this novel virus situation. As a result, it is advised that developers should always try to negotiate their PPAs to reflect international standards. This is of course easier said than done, but doesn’t mean efforts should be ignored.

On the developer’s side, it remains to be seen whether the standard PPA terms on force majeure might operate to allow extensions to COD deadlines, especially considering the deadlines are mandated in legislation. This is a topic that would bear much more scrutiny on a case-to-case basis.

For more information about Vietnam’s energy sector, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com or any of the lawyers in our office listing. Giles is Chairman of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC, branch director of Duane Morris’ HCMC office and Asia lead for Duane Morris’ Energy Industry Group.

3 Things About Vietnam’s Updated Legal Framework for Biomass Power Projects

Despite abundantly available biomass feedstock of agricultural origin, ranging from sugar bagasse, wood chip to rice husks and stalks, biomass as a source of renewable energy does not seem to have received the same amount of attention from the government of Vietnam as solar or wind power. It took the government more than six years to acknowledge the modest results of the current incentives package and adopt measures to give a new push to the development of biomass power plants. This was done on 5 March 2020 when the Prime Minister issued Decision No. 08/2020/QD-TTg (“Decision 08“) amending Decision No. 24/2014/QD-TTg dated 24 March 2014 (“Decision 24“) on support mechanisms for the development of biomass power projects in Vietnam. Decision 08 introduces a number of important changes which will take effect on 25 April 2020.

Increase of the Feed-in-Tariffs (“FiT”)

The FiT for electricity produced by combined heat and power (“CHP”) biomass power plants will increase from USD 5.8 cents per kWh to USD 7.03 cents (VND 1,634) per kWh.

The government has also abandoned the use of avoided cost schedules (calculated based on the cost of electricity produced by coal-fired power plants) published annually for determination of the electricity purchase price from non-CHP biomass electricity producers. The FiT for these projects is set at USD 8.47 cents (VND 1,968).

The FiTs are exclusive of value-added tax and are adjusted according to USD/VND exchange rate. The new FiTs will be also benefit the biomass power projects which have started operating before 5 March 2020 for the remaining terms of their power purchase agreements (“PPAs”).

Technical standards for electricity generation equipment

Decision 08 introduces a new requirement to comply with technical standards applicable to biomass electricity generation equipment and quality norms applicable to electricity produced by biomass power plants. Similar requirements already exist in recent regulations applicable to solar and wind power projects. The technical standards and norms will be elaborated by the Ministry of Industry and Trade (“MOIT”) which is also responsible for the issuance of a new model PPA for biomass projects.

Possibility of alternative off-takers

Under Decision 08 Electricity of Vietnam (“EVN”) (directly or through its authorised group entities) remains the sole off-taker of the electricity generated using biomass. However, the new decision also opens the door to “organisations assuming the rights and obligations” of EVN (or its relevant group entities) to become biomass electricity off-takers. This new development is in line with the government’s road-map for the liberalisation of Vietnam’s electricity markets (wholesale and then retail) by 2025. It is not clear whether this would improve the bankability of biomass PPAs, since EVN, as a State-owned enterprise, still enjoys strong government support while such backing may not be available to other off-takers in the future.

The possibility of selling electricity produced by biomass power plants directly to end users is not contemplated by the government at this stage. A recently published draft regulation on pilot Direct PPAs does not seem to include biomass power projects.

The hope is that above changes will make biomass power projects more attractive for investors. Whether the government’s target to increase the share of electricity produced from biomass to 2.1 percent of the total generated electricity by 2030 set out in the Revised Power Development Master Plan VII is achievable still depends a great deal on the new biomass PPA and technical requirements for biomass power projects to be issued by the MOIT in the coming months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solar FIT 2 finally announced in Vietnam but strict timeline remains

Vietnam’s Prime Minister has finally issued a decision on new FITs for solar power projects. The Decision formalizes amounts many had been expecting based on previously circulated draft information but comes nearly a year after the previous FIT rate expired (June 2019) and will leave many wondering why the decision couldn’t have been made much sooner.

Decision 13/2020/QD-TTg dated 6 April 2020 confirms that the new FITs will only be available – for now at least – for projects that COD prior to 31 December 2020.   This is a ridiculously short time line considering the long lead in time for delivery of inverters and, for many projects, completing land acquisition procedures.

The new FITs are:

  • For floating solar energy projects: 7.69 US cents/ kWh
  • For ground mounted solar energy projects: 7.09 US cents/ kWh
  • For rooftop energy solar energy projects: 8.38 US cents/ kWh

While providing welcome certainty, the long delay has seriously stressed many approved and licensed solar projects.   Investors and developers had been left in the dark about what revenue they would receive while simultaneously under pressure to meet construction deadlines stated in investment approvals and PPAs.

On the positive side, the Decision confirms that projects that are eligible for the new FITs are those that obtained Decisions on investment policy prior to 23 November 2019. This throws a wider net than previously-floated criteria that projects would have to have already started construction by that date. Practically speaking however, given the tight COD deadline, it will not dramatically affect the number of projects that have a realistic shot at securing the new FIT. Project owners need to make a very calculated decision now about how hard and fast to push ahead for COD by end of the year. Among myriad factors that could threaten such a target – including COVID-19 supply chain issues – must be EVN’s capacity to integrate and connect a potential flood of projects before the deadline.

The alternative, according to the new Decision, is that project owners will need to participate in competitive auctions. Though, also coming into view now, is a new corporate direct power purchase pilot program that will be an attractive option for many developers, albeit initially limited in scope. Read some more about that scheme here.

Notably, the new Decision does not suggest that any improvements will be made to the template solar power PPA, a form widely considered unbankable for international banks. Surely however the days must be numbered for this form if the Government wants to see sound future development of solar power, not to mention lower prices, in future.

With respect to rooftop solar projects, the Decision does not – as many had hoped – increase the existing 1 MW limit (which is not a true limit per se but rather a threshold for dramatically simpler licensing). Many had advocated to increase this to 3MW but not to be.

The Decision does however expressly recognize the concept of private rooftop power sales, something previously not clearly regulated. On that point, the Decision provinces that if EVN is not the power buyer, the parties can agree on their own PPA terms, provided they are consistent with existing regulations. This will be welcome news for rooftop developers who have been currently operating in something of a grey area, often using unconventional contractual arrangements. Further detailed regulation may come from the MOIT to further elaborate this.

For more information about Vietnam’s energy sector, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com or any of the lawyers in our office listing. Giles is Chairman of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC, branch director of Duane Morris’ HCMC office and Asia lead for Duane Morris’ Energy Industry Group.

Crunch time for PM’s decision on solar FIT2

In a 6 Feb 2020 report to the PM, the MOIT shares views received from the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Finance on the long-awaited new FIT regime for solar projects. Interestingly, a new option has emerged: that FIT 2 could apply to all projects approved in principle prior to 23 November 2019 and that reach COD by 31 December 2020. While December 2020 is still very close and thus a practical limit, this option is still markedly broader than the MOIT’s earlier proposal that only projects that had commenced construction (with very narrow criteria of what that means) prior to 23 November 2019 (and reach COD by 31 December 2020) should be entitled to FIT 2.

If the PM accepts this new option it would significantly increase the number of already-approved solar projects potentially eligible for FIT 2. that would be welcome news for approx. 40 projects currently in FIT limbo.

With this document, it appears that all involved ministries and other stakeholders such as EVN have been formally consulted and their opinions formally shared with the PM. The ball is firmly in the PM’s court now.

See the original text of the 6 Feb report here: FIT 2

For more information about Vietnam’s energy sector, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com or any of the lawyers in our office listing. Giles is co-General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC and branch director of Duane Morris’ HCMC office.

Narrow view of “under construction” may spell end of FiT goal for vast majority of Vietnam’s approved solar power projects

Only a tiny proportion of already-approved solar projects may qualify for Vietnam’s next feed in tariff (FiT 2) according to draft opinions from the MOIT.  If the Prime Minister agrees with the approach, many projects with already-signed PPAs, some in very advanced stages of development, look set to be forced into participating in tariff auctions or, worse, have their approvals withdrawn altogether.

The unsigned and undated MOIT document follows the Prime Minister’s surprise announcement dated 22 November that FiT 2 will only be available for projects with signed PPAs that are “under construction” and provided they reach COD by end of 2020.  The MOIT document seeks to define what “under construction” means for this purpose.  It takes a narrow view, referring to Article 6.1.b of Decree 59/2015/ND-CP dated 18 June 2015 re management of construction projects to suggest that for a project to be considered “under construction” the project must have completed appraisal of detailed / technical construction designs prior to 22 November 2019.

According to the MOIT’s data contained in the draft, it appears that only four out of 23 projects having already-signed PPAs but not yet reached COD would meet this criteria (some sources indicate there may be in excess of 30 such projects).  That would leave the vast majority of projects with signed PPAs out of contention for FiT2 and left scratching their heads as to what happens next.

As noted, the draft letter sighted is unofficial and draft only at this time so it is not yet definitive.  From our point of view, the MOIT is offering a far too narrow interpretation of what “under construction” could/ should mean.  Article 6.1.b of Decree 59 provides for numerous additional steps in the construction process that, if considered, would broaden the net substantially.  For example, it also refers to land allocation or lease; site investigation works, demining (if any); construction survey work; formulation, appraisal and approval of design and construction estimates; issuance of construction permits (if required); selection of contractors and signing of construction contracts, among other points.  There are approved projects that have paid for land clearance and compensation and started some site preparatory works but have held off completing detailed construction design appraisal pending the next FiT policy news.

As ever, it remains to be seen what final decision the PM will make on this issue.  It is not unreasonable to believe that the PM may consider the MOIT’s suggestion to be too narrow considering the substantial resources already committed by developers on many of these projects, some of which signed PPAs late 2017/ early 2018 expecting to make the FiT 1 cut off of 30 June 2019 and that have been left in limbo over the past nearly 6 months while the PM mulls the country’s new solar policy.

Watch this space.

For more information about Vietnam’s energy sector, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com or any of the lawyers in our office listing. Giles is co-General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC and branch director of Duane Morris’ HCMC office.

BREAKING NEWS – Vietnam’s PM decides to do away with solar FiTs in favor of auctions

Get ready for auctions!  After months of confusion and uncertainty over the policy for solar power development in Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc today issued his conclusions and looks to have signed the death knell for solar feed in tariffs (FiT) in favor of competitive auctions.

In Notification No. 402/TB-VPCP dated 22 November 2019, the Prime Minster concluded that rational future development of the sector necessitates introducing an auction system for ground-mounted solar projects.  FiTs will continue to apply only for rooftop solar projects and certain already-approved ground-mounted projects.

The decision comes nearly five full months after expiry of the blanket 9.35c/ kWh FiT issued in April 2017 that kicked off a huge, and largely uncontrolled, rush that culminated in some 4,500MW of solar generation capacity becoming operational by July 2019 and, reportedly, an incredible 35GW of registered interest.  The first number alone is some 500% more than the 850MW of solar that was planned to be operational by 2020 in National Power Development Masterplan 7 (revised as of 2016).  That both highlights just how frenetic the activity was and also how efficiently the private sector is able to get these projects developed, financed and constructed.  Just imagine what could be done with an international-standard PPA and a developed grid infrastructure.

The Prime Minister, in his conclusions, chides the MOIT for the helter skelter development over the past two years, with many projects concentrated in areas where grid infrastructure is unable to properly serve the facilities resulting in widespread curtailment problems.  The Prime Minister has urged the MOIT to learn its lessons and re-orient itself towards a new reality.  The gold rush days are over and developers can expect a more rigorous licensing and approval process for new projects now.

FiTs aren’t entirely dead yet though.  The Prime Minister’s conclusions suggest, without stating definitively, that certain projects will still be entitled to FiTs.  Specifically, ground-mounted projects that already have signed PPAs and can be put into operation in 2020 appear set to continue to enjoy FiTs.  Rooftop solar projects will also continue to enjoy FiTs.  The Prime Minister has instructed the MOIT to propose the final FiT terms, including a list of projects entitled to enjoy the new FiT, and present them for his approval by 15 December 2019.  While the number is still unknown, it is widely expected to be 7.09c for ground-mounted projects and stay at 9.35c for rooftop projects (which are favored due to not needing land to be allocated).

Certain, already announced, special rules for Ninh Thuan province will continue to apply with some adjustment.  Specifically, some already-approved projects in that province will continue to enjoy the 9.35c FiT but only until total operational capacity there reaches 2000 MW or until the end of 2020, whichever comes first.  The race is on there.

For all other ground-mounted solar projects, the Prime Minister has determined that competitive auctions are the way forward.  No doubt having an eye on the September 2019 auctions in Cambodia that resulted in solar tariffs as low as 3.87c, and record low prices in other markets around the world, this is seen as the appropriate way to marry investor appetite with actual conditions.  There is of course a huge question mark over how such auctions will function in practice and there remains a lot to be seen.  Most significantly, will there be any changes to the standard PPA terms to facilitate low prices.  If not, the market will have to put a firm price on the bankability and contractual risk.

For more information about Vietnam’s energy sector, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com or any of the lawyers in our office listing. Giles is co-General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC and branch director of Duane Morris’ HCMC office.

The beat goes on: Vietnam’s new solar tariff documents add to the uncertainty

A flurry of recent official communications on the new solar FiT regime have only added to uncertainty about the income stream for solar projects in Vietnam after June 2019.

Following nearly two months of relative silence last draft proposed new FiTs were made public (read about them: here and here), the PM and MOIT have exchanged letters indicating that policy and decision makers are still some distance apart on a final position.

In a letter to the MOIT last week, the PM proposed that the provinces be divided into two regions with different tariffs, half the number of regions proposed by the MOIT recently,  and meaning lower overall tariffs for Northern provinces which have barely seen any solar project action since the sun rush kicked off a couple of years ago.

The MOIT responded by urging the PM to further consider the 4 region options it previously tabled in April and May.

On the other hand, the PM’s letter indicates some sympathy for projects struggling to meet the current 30 June 2019 COD deadline, intimating that they ought to be allowed to continue to enjoy the current 9.35c tariff  if their efforts to meet the COD deadline have been hamstrung by matters outside their control (e.g. – land clearance).  The MOIT response takes a  harder line on this, giving its view that the 30 June 2019 deadline should remain a bright line with no exceptions (outside of those Ninh Thuan projects already granted an extension last year).

With the MOIT now seeking further opinions from EVN, the MOF and MOJ, one imagines it is could be risky to assume that the new FiT rates will be officially promulgated prior to the existing ones expiring on 30 June.

The two regions and corresponding FiTs for different kinds of solar projects as proposed by the PM are:

Region I (all Provinces except Region II Provinces)

Floating solar power = VND1,758/ kwh = 7.69 US cents / kwh
Ground mounted solar power = VND1,620/ kwh = 7.09 US cents / kwh
Roof solar power = VND1,916/ kwh = 8.38 US cents / kwh

Region II (Phú Yên, Gia Lai, Đăk Lăk, Khánh Hòa, Ninh Thuận and Bình Thuận Provinces)

Floating solar power = VND1,655/ kwh = 7.24 US cents / kwh
Ground mounted solar power = VND1,525/ kwh = 6.67 US cents / kwh
Roof solar power = VND1,803/ kwh = 7.89 US cents / kwh

Be aware: these are far from final.  Watch this space.

For more information about Vietnam’s energy sector, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com or any of the lawyers in our office listing. Giles is co-General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC and branch director of Duane Morris’ HCMC office.

Vietnam’s draft new solar tariffs – more sun, less cents, more sense

A new proposed tariff structure for solar energy projects in Vietnam sets out different rates for different irradiation regions and gives long-awaited indication of direction for the market after 30 June 2019.  On 29 January 2019, the Ministry of Industry and Trade (“MOIT“) released parts of a draft decision to update the country’s current feed in tariff (FiT) structure which is only valid until 30 June 2019 (the “Draft”).

The Draft is of course still just that, a draft, but forecasts a clear change in strategy with respect to FiTs.

Under the current FiT policy (regulated by Decision 11 and Decision 16) there is only one FiT for all projects regardless of location.  That is an internationally respectable FiT of 9.35 US cents per kWh for all on-grid solar power projects that achieve commercial operation date (“COD”) prior to 30 June 2019 (with the exception of some projects in Ninh Thuan province which have a later COD timeline).

The Draft however sets out a wide range of differing FiTs that vary based on: (i) when COD happens, (ii) location (3 regions are identified based on solar irradiation data), and (iii) the type of solar projects (i.e., floating, ground-mounted, integrated storage system or rooftop solar).

The table below shows what the Draft contemplates:

Projects with COD from 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020

 

Solar power types Region 1 (see regions below)

(28 northern provinces with annual solar irradiation of up to 1,432.8 kWh/m2/year)

Region 2

(6 central provinces of Vietnam with annual solar irradiation of up to 1,676.1 kWh/m2/year)

Region3

(29 central highlands and southern provinces of Vietnam with annual solar irradiation of up to 1,910.3 kWh/m2/year)

VND / kWh US cent equivalent VND / kWh US cent equivalent VND / kWh US cent equivalent
Floating solar power projects 2,135 9.35 1,838 8.05 1,612 7.06
Ground-mounted solar power projects 2,095 9.18 1,802 7.89 1,583 6.94
Solar power projects with integrated storage system N/A N/A N/A N/A 2,052 8.99
Rooftop solar power projects 2,448 9.85 1,933 8.47 1,697 7.43
Projects with COD from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021

 

Floating solar power projects 2,028 8.88 1,746 7.65 1,531 6.71
Ground-mounted solar power projects 1,990 8.72 1,712 7.50 1,504 6.59
Solar power projects with integrated storage system N/A N/A N/A N/A 1,949 8.54
Rooftop solar power projects 2,023 8.86 1,740 7.62 1,527 6.69

 

While no changes will please everyone, especially the many developers who have committed considerable resources based on assumptions of the current FiT rate, the changes still indicate strong support for solar power projects generally and a rational approach to reflect the markedly different irradiation levels across the country.  Such an approach should take some pressure of heavily-stretched Southern hotspots (stretched from both power infrastructure and bureaucratic bottleneck perspectives).

We will continue to monitor this and update further as possible.  Meanwhile, we’d be delighted to hear views from developers and financiers about the change of strategic policy direction and FiTs forecast by the Draft.  Get in touch and tell us what you think.

Region 1: comprising 28 northern provinces of Vietnam with annual solar irradiation of 1,225.6 – 1,432.8 kWh/m2/year or daily solar irradiation of 3.36 – 3.92 kWh/m2/day. Including: Ha Giang, Bac Kan, Cao Bang, Tuyen Quang, Thai Nguyen, Lao Cai, Yen Bai, Lang Son, Quang Ninh, Phu Tho, Vinh Phuc, Bac Giang, Hai Duong, Hoa Binh, Hanoi, Ha Nam, Bac Ninh, Hung Yen, Hai Phong, Ninh Binh, Thai Binh, Ha Tinh, Nam Dinh, Quang Binh, Thanh Hoa, Lai Chau, Nghe An and Son La.

Region 2: comprising 6 central provinces of Vietnam with annual solar irradiation of 1,456 – 1,676.1 kWh/m2/year or daily solar irradiation of 3.99 – 4.59 kWh/m2/day. Including: Quang Tri, Dien Bien, Thua Thien Hue, Quang Nam, Da Nang and Quang Ngai.

Region 3: comprising 29 central highlands and southern provinces of Vietnam with annual solar irradiation of 1,703.9 – 1,910.3 kWh/m2/year or daily solar irradiation of 4.67 – 5.23 kWh/m2/day. Including: Kon Tum, Ca Mau, Hau Giang, Binh Dinh, Phu Yen, Bac Lieu, Kien Giang, Soc Trang, Gia Lai, Can Tho, Vinh Long, Tra Vinh, Dak Lak, Khanh Hoa, Lam Dong, Ben Tre, Tien Giang, An Giang, Dak Nong, Ho Chi Minh City, Dong Nai, Dong Thap, Ba Ria – Vung Tau, Long An, Binh Duong, Binh Phuoc, Tay Ninh, Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan.

For more information about Vietnam’s solar and renewable energy sectors, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com, Tran Thanh at MTTran@duanemorris.com or any of the lawyers in our office listing.  Giles is co-General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC and branch director of Duane Morris’ HCMC office.

Solar project COD extension for Ninh Thuan province finally confirmed

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc signed Resolution 115/NQ-CP on 31 August 2018 to confirm some special policies to support Ninh Thuan province (“Resolution 115”). Pursuant to Article 1.1.e of the Resolution 115, the Prime Minister  confirmed that the commercial operation date (COD) deadline (previously 30 June 2019) for solar projects in Ninh Thuan province to enjoy the 9.35 US cents feed in tariff has been extended to the end of 2020.  This extension applies to those solar energy projects approved in the relevant Master Plan (approx. 2000MW).  Resolution 115 took effect on 31 August 2018 and lays to rest the badly kept secret that Ninh Thuan, a literal hot spot for solar projects, will enjoy more favorable terms than projects in other locations which remain bound to the 30 June 2019 COD deadline.   Clear and definitive statements as to what will happen after 30 June 2019 for projects in other locations is now desperately required.  Our view and intel is that no-one else should bank on extensions and should develop strategies now to mitigate risks of missing the 30 June 2019 date (e.g. – look to be an early mover in the hotly-anticipated DPPA (direct power purchase) market).

For more information about renewable energy projects in Vietnam, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com or any of the lawyers in our office listing. Giles is co-General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC and branch director of Duane Morris’ HCMC office.