Tag Archives: project finance

Vietnam’s waste-to-energy projects should be low hanging fruit

While alchemists of years past failed to turn lead into gold, technology today can turn waste into energy, and more efficiently than ever before, proving there is not only money to be made from rubbish, but also neat solutions to perennial problems.

Vietnam has long struggled with issues of waste management, with a recent study estimating that Ho Chi Minh City alone discharges 8,300 tonnes of waste each day. At the same time, power shortages and outages remain a part of daily life in parts of the city.

The country’s most popular method of solid waste treatment is still burial, with up to 76 per cent of trash ending up in landfills. Dump sites are prevalent thanks to their relatively low cost, little initial investment and ability to handle most types of solid refuse. However, the increasing amount of waste, lax management and disregard for technical protocols are rapidly making this method unsustainable. A number of environmental incidents have also raised the alarm over the pollution and contamination caused by this method of waste management.

Rapid urbanisation is partly behind the vertiginous increase in waste ­– rising urban populations are creating serious waste management problems for cities all over the world. In Vietnam in particular, with economic growth, urban residents are enjoying rising wages and living standards, in turn producing more waste.

Rising populations are also putting the strain on the country’s power-generation capabilities – a problem that will require significant investment over the coming years.

 Waste not, want not

A number of companies are working in Vietnam’s clean energy space, and while headlines are usually dominated by wind and solar power projects, the waste-to-energy sector has been enjoying some development too. The idea of converting Vietnam’s growing waste problem into a solution for its shortage of power could kill two birds with one stone.

The capital city of Hanoi inaugurated its first industrial waste-to-energy facility in April this year, supplying electricity to the national grid. With a waste treatment capacity of 75 tonnes per day and a power generation capability of 1.93MW, the facility is a pioneering project in Vietnam’s industrial waste treatment industry.

Almost all of the factory’s equipment was supplied by the Hitachi Zosen Company of Japan. With total investment capital of US$29 million, including more than US$22.5 million of non-refundable aid from Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation (NEDO) and the remainder extracted from the city’s budget.

With advanced technology from Japan, the factory demonstrates the potential in this area of clean energy and its attraction to foreign investors. If all goes well, the company has plans for another plant in the capital city and more across the country.

Australia’s Trisun Energy is another firm showing interest in this field, having set a major investment target of building up to 20 power-generating waste treatment plants in Vietnam over the next 5 to 10 years. The company, founded in 2011, is currently completing a comprehensive study of a waste-to-power plant in Ho Chi Minh City. According to Trisun, the plant will be capable of burning up to 3,000 tonnes of garbage per day, or more than 40 per cent of the city’s waste.

In addition to Japan and Australia, some leading Finnish companies are at the forefront of addressing the issues of waste and energy.

A delegation of 16 Finnish exhibitors set out some of their plans at the Vietwater 2017 expo, which recently concluded in Ho Chi Minh City. These include solutions for contaminated landfill sites and waste-to-energy projects; the development of biogas technology; and the generation of electricity from biomass and waste.

Doranova is one such firm. Since early January 2017, Doranova has been constructing a landfill gas plant in Binh Duong, north of Ho Chi Minh City. The plant will extract harmful methane emissions from a nearby landfill, generating electricity while reducing environmental pollution. According to the company, the plant will provide additional power generation options from waste materials for residents and businesses in the city.

 Not a wasted opportunity

These projects in Vietnam’s biggest cities represent small steps towards solving the country’s waste epidemic. They also help to diversify the national energy mix, which is crucial in ensuring the supply of energy meets the expected rise in consumption.

The increased focus on the clean-technology sector and particularly energy efficiency, renewable energy technologies and waste management provides business opportunities for international players who have the knowledge, expertise and technology needed in this field. The question is whether Vietnam will take full advantage of the opportunity.

Though a promising start has been made, the widespread implementation of waste-to-energy facilities will require a more concerted effort from authorities. The country’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) has set ambitious targets for the collection, reduction, reuse and recycling of waste nationwide. By 2020, 90% of urban domestic solid waste is to be collected and treated, with 85% recycled and reused.

Indeed, Hitachi Zosen Company (behind Hanoi’s waste-to-energy plant) has expressed concerns over the incentives and investment conditions provided by the Vietnamese government. The company, as well as a number of Japanese investors, are keen on rolling out the waste-to-energy model across the country. However, a lack of favourable investment conditions for foreign investors is holding back the industry. At present, investors are waiting for Vietnam to enact new public-private partnership regulations, before deciding on next-step investments.

The waste-to-energy sector in Vietnam holds a lot of potential, and technological advances mean that win-win solutions to both an abundance of waste and shortage of power are more affordable than ever. Combined with efforts in other areas of renewable energy, and the entry of international players, significant progress can be made in green power generation. As ever, the amount of progress depends on the attractive policies set out by the government. Investors are ready, and Vietnam would be wise not to let the opportunity go to waste.

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.

Public debt puts the squeeze on government guarantees, stifling project finance projects in Vietnam

Vietnam’s economic success story is evident in the rapid development of its big cities. However, while the country’s growth has outpaced its neighbours, so has its debt; a factor that threatens to de-rail growth.  Not least of all because of the impact on the government’s ability to give guarantees to underpin privately-financed infrastructure.

 

Over recent decades, the government has spent significantly. Priority has been given to roads, export zones and other critical infrastructure. This is evident across the country, where highways, tunnels, factories, airports and metro systems are being expanded, or built from scratch, at an incredible pace.

 

The biggest macroeconomic challenge facing Vietnam today is sustaining that growth. The government needs to be more rigorous about how it spends money, leveraging it better to attract and benefit from private funds rather than prop up State-owned entities.  The looming spectre of public debt will need to be tackled before the country finds itself in a precarious position.

 

Vietnam’s total public debt as of mid-July 2017 reportedly stood at US$94.6 billion, or about US$1,038 per capita. In fuelling the country’s celebrated growth, public debt has increased consistently, from 36% of GDP in 2001 to about 62.4% in 2016. According to an IMF forecast, it will hit 63.3% and 64.3% in 2017 and 2018, respectively, while the self-imposed public debt ceiling is set by the government at 65% of GDP for 2020.

 

Vietnam’s public debt compares unfavourably with the rest of the region, with Thailand coming in at 41 percent of GDP and Malaysia at 56 percent, according to the World Bank.

 

The annual growth of public debt during 2011-15 was 18.4 per cent, triple the annual GDP growth rate, which averaged about 5.9 per cent over the period.

 

A squeeze on guarantees

 

In an effort to tackle the ballooning public debt, the Ministry of Finance (MoF) announced changes to regulations on Government guarantees earlier this year. The adjustment is one of the regulations stated in the Government’s Decree 04/2017/ND-CP (Decree 04), superseding Decree 15/2011/ND-CP (Decree 15), issued on February 16, 2011.

 

Taking effect from March 1, the maximum level of Government guarantees for a programme or project was reduced from the previous level of 80 percent. Decree 04 replaces this with a three-tiered cap on the amount of guaranteed debt as a percentage of the investment capital depending on the size or importance of the project, each lower than the cap established in Decree 15.  In all cases this is far lower than the golden days of Vietnam’s early privately financed infrastructure projects like the Phu My 3 and Phu My 2.2 power projects which both enjoyed near total guarantees.

 

The current highest level of guarantee, set at 70 percent, applies to projects that must be implemented on an urgent basis, and have been approved by the National Assembly or the Prime Minister. Secondly, for projects whose total investment is at least VND2.3 trillion (US$102 million) and have been approved by the Prime Minister, the maximum proportion guaranteed by the Government is 60 percent. A cap of 50 percent will be applied to other projects.

 

In continuing to restructure of the country’s public debt with more stringent monitoring of projects, the decree aims at tightening the provision of Government guarantees and enhancing the management of public debt.

 

However, at a time when Vietnam needs to develop much infrastructure, notably in the energy sector, and requires substantial foreign investment to do so, Decree 04 makes it more difficult for private investors to obtain MoF Guarantees for projects.

 

Ticking debt time bomb

 

Taking the energy sector as an example, questions remain over EVN’s economic health. Tariffs on electricity have long been maintained at below cost levels. The policy of low subsidised tariffs to maintain the competitiveness of domestic industry and keep consumers happy is putting pressure on the government and EVN’s balance sheet.

 

The average retail electricity tariff stood at just above US$0.08/KWh as of 2016, the lowest in Southeast Asia, and only just above EVN’s average generation cost of US$0.075/KWh (excluding transmission and distribution costs). This has depressed sector cash flow and contributed to EVN’s rising debt.

 

This has raised concerns among private sector investors over EVN’s ability to pay for electricity generated as the single buyer, while the current low retail tariffs mean that investors are not confident of negotiating adequate prices for generation projects.

 

With the situation likely to continue, EVN’s financial position will surely deteriorate, leaving it with unsustainable debt and unable to finance capital expenditure. This would force private sector investors to seek increased government guarantees. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, the government is looking to rein in such largesse. As Vietnam’s economy grows, the previously abundant soft loans and ODA are beginning to dry up, meaning that the sources of support for private finance are becoming harder to find.

 

In order to reduce risk, the developers of major infrastructure projects may need to seek out private insurance groups or institutions like the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). However, these options obviously don’t come without their own costs. Investors, and ultimately end consumers, will have to take the hit.

 

Much of Vietnam’s current fiscal position can be blamed on poor management. The state-owned giants that have lost their repayment ability on Government-guaranteed loans are passing on the burden to the Government.

 

The sluggish privatisation of State-owned enterprises means that inefficiency will continue. The sooner this process is completed, the better for the economy as a whole. Measures like reducing government guarantees may be prudent, but if Vietnam wants to maintain its economic momentum serious action is needed to first untangle the mess of intra-State bad debt.

 

For more information about project finance matters 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.