Another Japanese golf course turns solar with 42MW project under construction

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Another large-scale solar project is being built on a former golf course in Japan, a 42MW DC power plant financed in part by the energy investment division of US multinational General Electric (GE).

GE Energy Financial Services, which claims to hold around US$16 billion in global energy assets, announced yesterday that it has invested in the project in Okayama, which lies between the major south-western Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Kobe. Investing alongside GE Energy Financial Services was another US company, Virginia Solar Group.

The project is the second in Japan that a joint venture (JV) partnership between Virginia Solar Group’s Japanese subsidiary, Pacifico Energy, and GE Energy Financial Services have executed project financing on. The two parties recently invested in the 32MW Kumenan plant, also in Okayama, which is scheduled to be connected in 2016.

The latest golf course project, known as Mimasaka Musashi, is currently under construction, with Pacifico Energy carrying out its building and operations and panels to be supplied by Chinese tier one manufacturer Yingli Green. Inverters will be supplied by TMEIC, which is a JV between Toshiba and Mitsubishi.

The plant’s funding was secured as non-recourse project finance, supported by a ¥13 billion (US$110 million) credit facility provided by Chugoku Bank and Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ. The plant is pencilled in for completion in Q3 2016 and electricity generated sold to local utility Chugoku Electric over a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA). In a press statement announcing the news, GE Energy Financial Services referred to the feed-in tariff (FiT) and other regulatory support as factors in attracting investment for solar projects in Japan

Staying with GE Energy Financial Services’ activities in Japan, in September the company secured a loan worth around US$800 million to build the country’s largest solar plant, a huge 231.44MW project, again in Okayama.

The news follows this week’s announcement of a 15MW project being built on another golf course in Japan, with panels to be supplied by Japanese thin-film manufacturer Solar Frontier. Yingli Green is also supplying panels to another Japanese golf course project, a 31.6MW, 40 hectare plant which will be Spanish company Gestamp Solar's first project in Japan. The country is traditionally extremely keen on golf, with the sport often woven into the social structures of corporate life and lengthy waiting lists for golf club memberships. Nonetheless, in years of economic downturn, golf courses, along with many of the theme parks that Japan was briefly obsessed with building in the boom years, have been losing money and many have gone bust.

Other Japanese attempts to free up land for solar projects have recently included floating PV plants and subsidies for developers looking to build on former landfill sites. While the issue of obtaining grid connection approval is considered a more pressing matter for the Japanese solar industry, the need to find suitable and available land is nonetheless acute.

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