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NextEra $175 Million Solar Bonds Outshine Buffett’s Topaz

NextEra Energy Inc. bonds for a pair of Canadian solar projects were rated higher than debt from Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., the largest issuance for a U.S. renewable-energy project without a federal guarantee.

DBRS awarded a BBB rating to NextEra’s C$171.8 million ($175 million) bonds for the Sombra and Moore solar farms in St. Clair, Ontario, two levels above junk, in a Sept. 21 report. Debt for Buffett’s Topaz Solar Farm in California received a BBB- rating from Fitch Ratings, its lowest investment grade.

“The key differentiator that allowed St. Clair to obtain a higher rating is the absence of construction risk,” Joseph Salvatore, a New York-based analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said in an interview yesterday. “The St. Clair projects went online in June, while Topaz isn’t scheduled to reach commercial operation until 2015.”

NextEra’s two 20-megawatt facilities, known collectively as St. Clair Holding Inc., supply electricity under a 20-year contract to the Ontario Power Authority. Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra is the top U.S. operator of wind farms and solar projects.

NextEra financed the C$194.8 million projects with a bridge loan and equity, according to DBRS, a Toronto-based ratings company, and plans to refinance them with proceeds from the notes.

MidAmerican issued $850 million in debt in February for its $2.4 billion Topaz Solar Farm in California. Both projects were developed by Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar Inc., the biggest U.S. solar manufacturer.

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