The U.S. Export-Import Bank expects India to become its biggest recipient of funding next year, led by loans for clean-energy projects including $575 million of solar deals.
The bank’s lending plans won’t be affected by concerns that the renewable energy industry may be vulnerable to a new global recession, said Craig S. O’Connor, director of the bank’s office of renewable energy.
“This sector isn’t risky,” O’Connor said in an interview at a conference in New Delhi. “It’ll continue to grow.”
The funding could ease a hurdle facing India as it aims to build 20,000 megawatts of solar capacity by 2022 and join Germany in trying to develop cleaner, safer sources of power after Japan’s nuclear disaster. About $3.2 billion of Indian projects have found it difficult to get loans from commercial banks, and more funding could help U.S. panel makers such as First Solar Inc. and SunPower Corp., which face China competition.
“Local banks are still quite skeptical” to lend, said Inderpreet Wadhwa, chief executive officer of Azure Power, which has a $16 million Export-Import loan for a 5-megawatt plant. “And if there’s a recession, agencies like Ex-Im will want to create jobs and help exports to India’s economy.”
The Export-Import Bank is authorized by Congress to lend as much as $100 billion to help finance projects that buy U.S. goods and services. It has approved $1.4 billion in new deals for India in this financial year, raising its overall lending to the country to $5.5 billion.
Deals in Pipeline
That includes $75 million in funding already approved for Indian solar projects, while another $500 million of deals are in the pipeline, O’Connor said.
“India could become Ex-Im Bank’s largest market next year,” O’Connor said.
The bank has come under pressure to support cleaner projects after approving in the last fiscal year coal-fired power plants and other ventures that will emit more than 20 million metric tons of carbon pollution annually, the most since the lender started releasing data in 2001. It agreed to $900 million in loan guarantees for an Indian coal plant only after the builder, Reliance Power Ltd., pledged to pursue solar projects after groups such as the Sierra Club opposed the deal.
The bank can offer solar project loans with interest rates that are “in the single digits even after hedging,” O’Connor said. In comparison, India’s electricity regulator estimates the local cost of funding for the industry at 13.3 percent.
O’Connor disputed perceptions that renewable energy investments are more at risk from a global decline because governments could reduce subsidies. Renewable power plants tend to have power purchase contracts that guarantee tariffs for about 15 years, which make them reliable investments, he said.
Concerns that governments could roll back subsidies have driven clean-energy stocks to a 2 1/2-year low. The Wilderhill New Energy Global Innovation Index lost 14 percent this month while the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 8 percent.