Vive la transparency


January 18, 2016

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The European Union wants a transparency revolution.

This year, it expects member states to implement laws that force firms with 500 employees or more to disclose detailed non-financial information in their financial reports. This aims to make it easier to judge firms on everything, from any environmental damage they do to their approach to human rights. This is on top of the financial and non-financial information that they already give.

This looks like it will be good for wind developers and investors.

We saw a host of large firms make high-profile commitments to renewables, including wind, around last month’s United Nations climate talks in Paris, but we have little faith that many will follow through. Perhaps we are too cynical. But if they are forced to be more transparent about their environmental impact, including green energy use, then that should mean more take-up for wind power.

That should mean more direct investment in wind farms, similar to the deals we have seen tech giants like Apple making in wind to power large new data centres. That should mean more lucrative power purchase agreements that make new schemes viable, which is good news for developers and investors. And that should make it harder for those who say they are embracing renewables to hide and obfuscate when they are challenged on their records.

All of those benefits would outweigh the hassles of extra reporting obligations for wind’s top firms.

The main reason the EU is seeking to bring in these rules is to give shareholders a clear idea of the ethics of the companies they are investing in. It wants shareholders to have a clear picture of the risks of their investments, including any assets in fossil fuels that could be rendered obsolete. The oil price crash shows just how quickly big changes can happen.

And the other reason that companies should do this is because it is what institutional investors want.

A report from global financial services adviser Ernst & Young, out in October, said investors are increasingly looking at a company’s environmental performance could affect shareholder returns. It also said that most company reports were still falling far short.

The report included research by Institutional Investor Research, which surveyed a group of 200 institutions about their views.

Of those, 80% said they thought mandatory board oversight of non-financial performance was important, compared to 64% in 2014; and 62% said they considered non-financial information relevant in all sectors, compared to 34% in 2014.

This shows how vital this information is becoming in investment decisions: 36% said they had reduced holdings in a company due to the risk of stranded assets.

It also said that businesses in Australia and Europe were ahead of the pack reporting on environmental issues, while firms in Asia-Pacific and Latin America lag. Still, moved for more transparency in the EU should filter out to large firms in other regions.

And ultimately, this must be good for wind. If investors can scrutinise companies’ ‘green’ pledges then it should force more to look at alternatives to fossil fuels, predominantly renewables.

Vive la transparency!

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