It’s easy to blame others when you lose a lot of money. But Acciona has a better case than most.
This week, the Spanish energy and infrastructure company has reported a loss of almost €2bn in its 2013 reports, which the company blames squarely on Spanish reforms to energy subsidies. The loss marks a big turnaround from the €189m profit that Acciona made in 2012.
We can trace this back to the mid-2000s, when the Spanish government gave generous subsidies to renewable energy companies to develop wind and solar projects. Developments popped up all over the country, Spain became a leader in this sector, and companies including Acciona thrived.
The problem for the Spanish government is that these generous incentives were too popular.
The result was a ‘tariff deficit’. This means that there has been gap between the cost of generating energy and the price being paid by consumers, with the Spanish government footing the bill for the difference. The tariff deficit is currently around €30bn, and growing at a rate of about €5bn a year.
The deficit wouldn’t look as bad if the economy was booming, but Spain’s economy is still getting on its feet after the five year stop-start recession caused by its 2008 property crash. The Spanish government is now under pressure to balance its books.
This is why it announced swingeing cuts to renewable energy subsidies last July, and revealed the exact details earlier this month. AEE, the country’s wind energy association, said the cuts meant that 37% of built wind farms would get no more subsidies and the rest would see subsidies halved.
This takes us back to Acciona’s 2013 annual results.
The company reported that changes to subsidies had directly hit it by €257m; and forced goodwill write-offs and impairment charges totalling €1.7bn on its renewable energy assets. Its energy division’s sales remained flat at €2.1bn year-on-year, but pre-tax profits shrank 95.9% to €6.7m.
It said it had partly mitigated the €257m hit by adding 105MW of new capacity with developments in the wind and hydropower sectors. Its total production in 2013 was 22,404GWh from an installed capacity of 8,480MW, of which 5,974MW is in Spain.
But the most interesting element is where Acciona goes from here. The company has said it is moving away from developing wind farms to own them, and towards building for others.
It is also looking to bring in partners to help shore up its finances. Earlier this week, it was revealed that Acciona has hired Lazard to find buyers for up to 49% of its wind farms outside Spain in a bid to raise capital; and the firm is also considering bringing in partners for its Spanish operations.
It will not be the only company to suffer at the hands of the subsidy changes, but it is one of the most high profile. And the tone of its results is unequivocal: the government is to blame.
This €2bn loss shows the Spanish fallout is only just beginning.
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