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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

VIETNAM – POWER SECTOR – NEW FEED-IN-TARIFFS FOR WIND ENERGY PROJECTS

THE PRIME MINISTER’S IN-PRINCIPLE APPROVAL
On 11 September 2018, the Prime Minister has approved a draft decision on new feed-in tariffs (FITs) applicable to wind power projects in Vietnam. This FITs decision will become effective 1 November 2018 (the “PM Decision”). The PM Decision will amend and revise certain articles of the Prime Minister’s Decision No. 37/2011/QD-TTg on the mechanisms supporting the development of wind power projects in Vietnam.

FITS PRICE FOR WIND ENERGY PROJECTS
FITs price for wind power projects will be increased from the current 7.8 US cents / kWh to (i) 8.5 US cents / kWh applicable to onshore wind power projects, and (ii) 9.8 US cents / kWh applicable to offshore wind power projects.
Onshore and offshore wind power projects are roughly defined in the PM Decision as follows: (i) onshore wind power project means on-grid wind power project that having its wind turbines to be built and operated on inland areas and coastal zones (NB: boundary of such inland areas and coastal zones is the average low water line for 18.6 years), and (ii) offshore wind-power project means on-grid wind power project that having its wind turbines to be built and operated outside inland areas and coastal zones to the sea.
We believe that the MOIT should provide further guidelines for a better definition of onshore and offshore wind power projects.

COD FOR NEW FITS – WIND POWER PROJECTS
The new FITs price must apply to a part or the whole of a wind power project that achieves commercial operation date (“COD”) before 1 November 2021, and such new FITs will apply for 20 years from the COD of such wind power project.
For wind power projects that have achieved COD prior to the effective date of the PM Decision (i.e., 1 November 2018), the new FITs price may apply for the remaining term of the relevant signed wind power purchase agreement (PPA). However, it is not crystal clear if the new FITs price will automatically apply to the current operating wind power projects, or it is still required to re-negotiate and revise the current signed wind PPA with EVN. In case of the latter, it will be very challenging to re-negotiate and revise the current signed wind PPA with EVN.

AUCTION MECHANISM AFTER 1 NOVEMBER 2021
According to the PM Decision, MOIT must prepare and submit a policy on auction for selection of new wind power projects and wind power prices since 1 November 2021 onward.

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Please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Oliver Massmann under omassmann@duanemorris.com or any lawyer in our office listing if you have any questions or want to know more details on the above. Dr. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.

VIETNAM – RENEWABLE ENERGY – NEW FEED IN TARIFFS FOR WIND ENERGY – AMAZING DEVELOPMENT – SOLAR POWER – SPECIAL POLICY FOR NINH THUAN AND ONGOING DRAFT POLICY

RECENT DEVELOPMENT
Until June 2018, approx. 286 solar power projects of total capacity of 19,300 MW have been submitted to the licensing authorities to be supplement to the Power Master Plans, but only 100 projects have been approved (approx. 4,700 MW). We also note that 90% projects are still in other licensing processes such as application for investment registration license, construction permit, etc.
At least 10 solar power projects that investors have signed PPAs with EVN recently. By end of September 2018, the first solar energy project will connect to the national power grid (35 MW in Hue province).
With regards to the remaining projects have not yet been included in the Power Master Plans, the Deputy PM Trinh Dinh Dung has decided and instructed that MOIT must consider and approve to addition if such solar energy projects satisfy one of the following conditions:
• MOIT has completed the investigation process of the application to supplement to Power Master Plan of such project; or
• Projects have submitted the application to supplement to Power Master Plan to MOIT and such projects are located in provinces that have potential to develop solar energy projects.

SPECIAL POLICY ONLY FOR NINH THUAN – NOT FOR OTHER PROVINCES
On 31 August 2018, the Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc issued Resolution 115/NQ-CP (“Resolution 115”) to finally decide 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 Power Master Plan. 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 (as noted below).

NEW REGULATIONS FOR SOLAR ENERGY PROJECTS AFTER 30 JUNE 2019?
The Government will issue new FIT and new PPA for projects coming into operation after 30 June 2019. Such new FIT will be much more lower than the current one (verbally confirmed by Mr. Nguyen Ninh Hai, Deputy Director of New and Renewable Energy Department, MOIT).
The Government is now also working on a Competition Auction System for solar power projects that may be completed at around the 2020. The new FIT will be applied only until the Competition Auction System is decided and implemented.

ON GOING DRAFT POLICY ON NEW FIT FOR WIND ENERGY PROJECTS
MOIT has proposed the below a new and very promising FIT for wind energy projects to PM for his consideration and approval:
o FIT for Onshore project: 8.5 cents
o FIT for Offshore project: 9.8 cents
FYI, in current draft available to us, onshore and offshore projects are defined as below:
“Onshore wind power project means on-grid wind power project that having its wind turbines to be built and operated on inland areas and coastal zones (NB: boundary of such inland areas and coastal zones is the average low water line for 18.6 years)
Offshore wind-power project means on-grid wind power project that having its wind turbines to be built and operated outside inland areas and coastal zones to the sea.”

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Please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Oliver Massmann under omassmann@duanemorris.com or any lawyers in our office listing if you have any questions or want to know more details on the above. Dr. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.

Vietnam – Solar Energy – Action plan for getting deals done with the new Power Purchase Agreement

Interview with Dr. Oliver Massmann\

1. Which significant changes does the new PPA contain for the solar energy sector?

Decision 11 introduces the Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) rate of UScents 9.35 per kWh. The FiT rate is only applicable for on-grid solar power project with efficiency of solar cells greater than 16% or with efficiency of the modules greater than 15%. The FiT rate depends on the currency exchange rate of the Vietnamese Dong and the US-Dollar. The rate remains the same throughout the whole year. It is adjusted by the Vietnamese State Bank on the last working day of the year for being used in the following year.

As a result, the financial planning is easier and it grants certain security for investors such as protection against currency fluctuation.

2. Which aspects in the new PPA have changed compared with the draft PPA from April 2017?

Compared with the draft PPA, the FiT rate is now indicated in the final version and there is reference to the adjustment of the FiT in case of USD/VND exchange rate fluctuation.

The MoIT made no big changes regarding the shortcomings of the draft of the PPA from April 2017.

The investor still has to bear the biggest risk.

3. Is the PPA bankable?

No, in general the PPA is not bankable in its final version.

4. Is there a way to make it bankable?

Yes, it is possible to make the PPA bankable. We have 20 years of experience making PPAs bankable for gas and coal fired power plants and wind energy plants in Vietnam. The investor should use all business channels and experienced negotiators to make the PPA bankable.

It is a matter of negotiation and experience. Decision 11 is granting investors the possibility to negotiate the conditions with EVN. The price remains fixed.

Agreements such as the EU – Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (“EVFTA”) or the Trans-Pacific Partnership (“TPP”), which is now called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (“CPTPP”), lay a big milestone for making the PPA bankable.

The EVFTA was signed in 2015 and is expected to be ratified by all member countries by 2018. It is probably going to take effect in 2019. It is estimated to generate an increasing GDP and to liberalize the economy of Vietnam. Another aspect is the elimination of almost all custom duties (over 99% of all tariff lines). As a result, there will be a huge impact on trade development and the interest of investors.

Another important agreement is the CPTPP. On 4th February 2016 the TPP was signed between 12 countries. The signing nations made up 28% of the global trade and 40% of the global GDP. However, at the beginning of 2017, the US President Trump decided to withdraw from the TPP. The remaining 11 member states discussed the future of the TPP in APEC event in Da Nang, Vietnam and agreed to push ahead with the TPP but now under the name of CPTPP. Furthermore, the states agreed to work out a new framework agreement, which includes changes to the previous TPP agreement. The largest amendment was made in the field of intellectual property, for example, easing the protection of copyright or the special protection of biologics and pharmaceuticals.

However, the level of market access is still the same as in the first TPP. For some countries, further negotiations have to take place and they need time to adapt their laws to the CPTPP rules. The negotiators have set the goal of signing the revised TPP by the first quarter of 2018. After 6 countries have ratified the partnership, it will come into effect.

With the CPTPP, market access to more sectors will be opened than the WTO such as telecommunication, distribution of goods, manufacturing and fabrication. However, there will remain a few restrictions in the power/energy sector as discussed below.

As a result of the EVFTA and the TPP, Vietnam will get access to a huge part of international markets. This gives Vietnam the possibility to increase the amount of imports and exports (estimated up to 37% higher until 2025) and to improve foreign investments.

Another essential instrument is the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS)[N1] which is going to be applied under the EVFTA and the TPP. Under that provision, for investment related disputes, the investors have the right to bring claims to the host country by means of international arbitration. The arbitration proceedings shall be made public as a matter of transparency in conflict cases. In relation to the TPP, the scope of the ISDS was reduced by removing references to “investment agreements” and “investment authorization” as result of the discussion about the TPP’s future on the APEC meetings on 10th and 11th November 2017.

As a conclusion, the bankability of the PPA will get enhanced as a consequence of the EVFTA and TPP in the next few years if the legislative framework is being reformed in the right direction. The economy will become more dynamic because of access to other markets and further foreign investments. With the implementation of the ISDS in the TPP, investors will be more secured in relation to dispute resolution and protection against the risks of international trading. As a result, banks will be more willing to finance PPAs.

Our recommendations: For now, the bankability of the PPA is not as it is expected. But you should be aware of the upcoming agreements which will lead to a big impact on the economy growth and the economy itself. If everything is improving in the right direction as it is now, the PPAs will be more bankable in the future and there will be better investment opportunities.

5. How was the bankability issue handled in the past years?

The TPP and the EVFTA are not the only agreements regarding the bankability of the PPA.

Vietnam and the USA signed the Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA) in 1999 which was implemented in 2001. It was a huge success and very important agreement for the economy of Vietnam. It was the first opening of the Vietnamese market and important for the creation of more business opportunities and new standards for financing projects.

Another important fact was Vietnam’s accession to the WTO in 2007. This has improved trade relations between Vietnam and other countries by removing trade barriers and the commitment to non-discrimination. It was also a political sign to show Vietnam’s will to get integrated in the international trade by accepting international trading rules.

To be able to fulfill the commitments, it is necessary to make legislative adjustments and adopt laws that ensure the viability and efficiency of the projects. In the last years, many important laws have been introduced. They have helped to enhance the bankability of the PPA, for example, the 2014 Investment Law, 2014 Enterprise Law, 2012 Labor Law, etc.

In addition, in 2011, the legal framework for wind power projects was introduced.

Our recommendation: You should use existing international agreements and local laws as the bases for negotiation. Remember to rely on existing precedents and keep in mind that there are some difficulties for project development. But with a well-structured project development, it is still possible to getting a bankable PPA done.

6. What are the main risks of the PPA for investors?

With many solar projects currently focused on a few central locations, the capacity of existing facilities to absorb power must be a cause of some concerns given the PPA’s transfer of such risk to power producers.

EVN holds a monopoly of distribution, repair, maintenance, inspection and examination of the grid.

There is a big risk because of the lack of the government’s guarantee for EVN’s payment obligation in cases energy is provided from the producer but cannot be transmitted due to interruption of EVN’s grid connection. One solution for bridging that guarantee gap can be the use of the MIGA backup from the Worldbank (Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency) or backup from the Asean Development Bank.

Reasons for the interruption can be, for example: force majeure or termination of contracts. EVN can refuse transmitting the energy in cases of maintenance or repairing.

Circular 16 does not contain any guarantee or compensation for investors in these cases.

Our recommendations for avoiding potential risks: Be aware of veto rights of EVN and Vietnamese authorities. You have to be patient because the decision making process in Vietnam goes through many levels and takes time.

7. There will be conflicts between the investors and EVN because of the shift of risks to the investors. Which means of conflict resolution does the PPA grant to investors?

In general, the PPA is governed by the Vietnamese law.

The PPA does not provide for international arbitration as a means of dispute resolution.

Conflicts can be submitted to the Department of Electricity and Renewable Energy. If this option fails, investors can seek help at the Electricity Regulatory Authority of Vietnam (ERAV) or with application to a Vietnamese court.

The PPA implicitly allows the involvement of domestic and offshore arbitration. However, whether it can be a prior agreement with EVN in the PPA or only until there is an arising dispute simply lies in the hands of EVN.

Our recommendations for successful negotiations with EVN: You have to understand how EVN is working and what their targets are. Be aware of their monopoly position in the energy sector in Vietnam. Don’t try “to reinvent the wheel”!

Do not overexert them with too ambitious intentions related to the development proposal. They might be afraid of so many new things. Rely on workable precedent strategies and make reference to successful projects.

8. Which view does the MoIT hold regarding the shortcomings of the PPA?

The MoIT knows about the shortcomings of the PPA and is aware about the fact that the PPA will not attract investors to meet the power demand or to solve problems regarding the development of renewable energy.

The MoIT also knows that the solar energy sector in Vietnam has a lot of potentials.

Finally, the MoIT expects to attract smaller investment projects where bankability is not really an issue for the investors.

9. Is the view of the MoIT realistic?

In our opinion, the MoIT’s view is not realistic. It may lead to unfeasible projects because of the existing risks of the final version of PPA and without assurance for supportive services from a bank. Furthermore the success of projects depends on the result of the negotiation with EVN.

10. Which advice can you give to future investors regarding their project development?

Be aware! You have to take care of your project on a step-by-step-base and get well prepared for the negotiations with EVN when you decide to invest in an on-grid power project.

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Please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Oliver Massmann under omassmann@duanemorris.com if you have any questions or want to know more details on the above. Dr. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.

 

Thank you!