Greece’s ‘largest solar project’ to date changes hands to oil major

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Hellenic Petroleum, the owner of the 204.3MWp new solar plant, is an oil group with €9.7 billion in revenues posted in 2018. Image credit: Hellenic Petroleum

Top government officials in Greece have hailed the acquisition by an oil major of a utility-scale solar project, a scheme they say is the largest renewable energy venture seen to date in the country.

On Monday, Greece’s Environment and Energy Minister Kostis Hatzidakis welcomed the sale of a 204.3MWp PV project in Western Macedonia from German developer juwi to oil group Hellenic Petroleum (HELPE).

The oil buyer – a €9.7 billion (US$10.5 billion) revenue group partly owned by the state – will invest €130 million (US$140.7 million) in the PV plant near Kozani, a city a six-hour drive northwest of capital Athens.

Contacted by PV Tech, juwi’s managing director for Greece Takis Sarris explained the firm had acquired the 204.3MWp project in 2017, five years after the first permits were received. With juwi leading development, the plant has since been granted green approvals and grid connection terms.

According to Sarris, juwi will not be retaining any project ownership shares after the sale to HELPE, with the transaction due to complete in Q2 2020. The seller will, however, stay behind as the EPC and O&M contractor for a 10-plus-10 year period.

Now that land has been secured, the Kozani PV plant will break ground in July or August this year and should be complete by the end of 2021, Sarris told this publication. Juwi, he added, has yet to decide whether the project will be powered by mono- or bifacial modules.

Renewable tenders to find new life after lignite

The news of the solar sale was seized upon by the Greek government as a sign of the country’s progress towards its energy transition. Under state-run tenders, the government is working to take installed PV capacity to 7.7GW by 2030, up from the current records of 2.6GW-plus.

As he witnessed the signing of the juwi-HELPE deal, minister Hatzidakis said the 204.3MWp project “sends a message” to those investors at home and abroad who are considering Greek renewables. A “new landscape” is being created so that the country can meet its EU green energy goals, he said.

The minister also sought to underscore the social benefits of the solar project, amid claims it will help create some 300 jobs. “We have decided to move quickly to lignite,” he said. “Gas will obviously be a transition fuel in the first phase, but the long-term solution will no doubt be wind, PV.”

According to juwi’s Sarris, the Kozani PV scheme was amongst the projects receiving feed-in premium support at the technology-neutral auction held in Greece in April 2019. The 203.4MWp project will enjoy tariffs of €57,73/MWh (US$62.45/MWh) for 20 years, Sarris told PV Tech.

Solar was the overwhelming winner of the tender alongside wind, which sparked 637.78MW in bidding interest from both technologies. Of the seven contracts (437.78MW all in all) that were finally awarded, six went to PV projects.

The country – which is planning to hold a 500MW new technology-neutral tender in April this year – has not been as successful triggering a large response to its PV-specific auctions. The solar-only tenders of last July and December both ended in undersubscription.

The prospects and challenges of solar's new era in Greece and the rest of Europe will take centre stage at Large Scale Solar Europe 2020 (Lisbon, on 31 March-1 April 2020).

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