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Adwea seeking new partners

The utility is courting Japanese investors for one of its biggest power development projects.

The Abu Dhabi Water and Electric Authority (Adwea) is courting Japanese investors for one of its biggest power development projects. after the project ran into financing difficulties. Abdullah Saif al Nuaimi, the director of privatisation at the government-owned utility, will travel to Japan next week to discuss the project, according to Japan's Nikkei newspaper. The Japanese companies, Marubeni and Osaka Gas, are considering a 20 per cent stake in the Shuweihat S2 power and water desalination project, which they would purchase from the Franco-Belgian gas and electric utility GDF Suez, according to Mr Nuaimi.

Adwea, which owns 60 per cent of the project, picked GDF Suez as its sole partner for Shuweihat S2 in May, awarding the company a contract to build the 1,500 megawatt power plant and operate it for more than 20 years. But that was before the US subprime mortgage implosion sent shock waves through the global financial sector, precipitating a credit crunch that has drastically restricted the funding available for major industrial projects worldwide.

Earlier this month, Adwea disclosed it was seeking short-term financing for the Abu Dhabi project, which is planned to supply about 15 per cent of the emirate's power needs, starting in 2011. This would be bridge financing, a stopgap measure put in place until international credit conditions return to normal, allowing arrangements to be made for long-term project financing, Mr Nuaimi said. "This is a challenge for us," he told an Abu Dhabi economic development conference.

The plan to add Japanese partners reflects a greater willingness by some Asian banks, compared with their western counterparts, to lend money to government-backed infrastructure projects in the Middle East. A syndicate of Japanese banks, led by the Japan Bank for International Co-operation (JBIC), has agreed to lend more than US$2 billion (Dh7.34bn) to the Abu Dhabi power project. JBIC, the international financing arm of the government-owned banking entity Japan Finance, is expected to provide more than half of that amount.

As project financing has become more difficult to arrange in recent months, the government-affiliated lenders and export credit agencies of Japan and other Asian countries have received increasing numbers of financing requests for more than $2 trillion of infrastructure projects in Middle-Eastern oil-producing states. JBIC is also in talks regarding financing for a 600bn (Dh22.96bn) power-generation project in Saudi Arabia that the Japanese company Sumitomo is seeking to develop.

Japanese lenders are behind part of the financing for Abu Dhabi's Shuweihat S1 project, following Sumitomo's purchase in September of a 20 per cent interest in the electricity and water development from government-controlled Abu Dhabi National Energy Company, or Taqa, and a 50 per cent interest in a partnership to operate and maintain the plant. Despite the unfavourable financial climate, Adwea is trying to push ahead with an ambitious programme to build more gas and oil-fired power plants to meet Abu Dhabi's burgeoning electricity needs until nuclear power can be developed.

The utility announced in May it would build a third power and water plant at Shuweihat, in the west of Abu Dhabi, to meet projected demand from the growing population and industrial base. UAE companies, especially government-linked entities in Dubai, have taken on large debts in recent years. As credit conditions have worsened, these have attracted scrutiny from investors and ratings agencies, affecting the ability of all industrial and infrastructure projects in the country to obtain financing.

One of the great challenges that the finance sector faces is its ability to continue to finance the growth that is anticipated in the region," Mukhtar Hussain, the global chief executive of HSBC Amanah said earlier this month. "I think there needs to be a diversification in the sources of capital." @Email:tcarlisle@thenational.ae

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