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Meridian ponders reaping windfarm windfall

Tuesday 8 Jan 2013 1:05 p.m.

By Pattrick Smellie

Meridian Energy is considering the sale of its 50 percent stake in the AU$1 billion (NZ$1.25b) Macarthur windfarm in Victoria to book gains from the global drop in interest rates.

The state-owned enterprise's chief executive, Mark Binns, told BusinessDesk the company stood to earn a "bond-like" return over the 25-year life of its joint venture arrangements for the massive 420 MW windfarm, which it is building with energy generator and retailer AGL.

The project is expected to be producing full power early this year and will be the largest in the southern hemisphere.

Meridian won an international award for the way the finance arrangements were structured in a ground-breaking deal announced in September 2011.

"The way Macarthur is structured, we don't participate in the ups and downs of the electricity market," said Mr Binns, who confirmed Meridian was "considering exiting" its stake in talks that include AGL.

"It's an AGL risk. It doesn't totally fit with our strategy."

By comparison, its 70MW Mt Millar windfarm in South Australia is wholly owned and operated by Meridian.

A timeframe for decisions was uncertain, but "not imminent," he said.

"We can stay in the 25-year deal, or we can look at selling. While interest rates are low, there's a profit to be made."

He would not be drawn on whether an exit from Macarthur could see a capital return to the government ahead of the proposed partial privatisation of Meridian, the most valuable of the three SOE power companies.

It was independently valued at $6.5 billion in 2011 in work undertaken for the Treasury's Crown Ownership Monitoring Unit.

Assuming legal challenges are overcome, the sale of up to 49 percent of MightyRiverPower is planned in the second quarter of this year, with a second partial float of either Meridian or Genesis Energy possible by the end of the year.

There was "no link" between thinking on Macarthur and the asset sales programme, said Mr Binns.

As well as Mt Millar, Meridian is due to start construction of a wholly-owned 131MW windfarm at Mt Mercer, in Victoria.

NZN

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