x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Dubai to open power sector to investors

Dubai will for the first time allow private investors to own a stake in the power industry, in a move designed to ease the government's investment burden.

Dubai will for the first time allow private investors to own a stake in the power industry, in a move designed to ease the government's investment burden and make the sector more efficient. The announcement by Saeed al Tayer, the DEWA managing director and chief executive, represents a watershed moment in the emirate's power sector and follows a trend towards privatisation of power stations across the region.

The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), which is fully owned by the Dubai Government, wants help in attracting investors by creating an independent regulator and deciding on an ownership structure for its first private power project, a 1,500 megawatt plant to be built at Hassyan, close to the Abu Dhabi border. DEWA hoped to "encourage the private sector to engage in such strategic projects and to establish a business model that depends on the competitiveness and the latest technology available", Mr al Tayer said.

Dubai's economic conditions presented an ideal opportunity to implement an independent water and power project, but were not the main driver behind the plan, said Waleed Salman, the DEWA vice president for business development and regulation. The privatisation plan was under consideration before Dubai's debt troubles rose in November, he indicated. DEWA, like other Dubai Government entities, has suffered credit rating downgrades since Dubai World announced its debt restructuring effort.

The utility is accepting bids for an advisory contract that would answer legal, strategic and technical questions for the proposed investment framework, Mr Salman said. "We are building a strong environment and structure for the foreign investors to come and invest in this project," he said. "They want to be secure, they want to be protected." As part of this effort, Dubai would create an independent regulator that would have the power to settle disputes between investors and DEWA. "It's not going to be under DEWA, it's going to be under an independent regulatory body," Mr Salman said.

Abu Dhabi, Oman and Qatar have all created similar entities. DEWA also needs to decide on how large an equity stake foreign investors should have in the project and how they should be paid for the electricity and water, said Robert Bryniak, the chief executive of Golden Sands, a Gulf power consultancy. In Oman, private investors can own 100 per cent of new power plants, while Abu Dhabi limits investors to a 40 per cent holding, with the rest owned by government entities.

Although their equity portion is lower, the benefit for investors in Abu Dhabi is a guaranteed fixed rate of return and support from the government to raise financing, Mr Bryniak said. "The legislative process is pretty critical," he said. "You've got to establish all these kinds of parameters." The consortiums bidding for the advisory contract were each likely to include law firms, engineering companies and banks, he said, and the process would take at least six months and could extend into next year.

Mr al Tayer said the project "requires time for implementation", and he emphasised that DEWA would continue to increase its own power-generating capacity over the time it takes to set up the private power project. Once Dubai establishes a structure for the project, it will accept bids from large private power firms which own and operate plants, Mr Bryniak said. From the perspective of the power industry, DEWA's advisory contract was small in monetary terms, but was more important for what would likely follow: a multibillion dollar contract and steady returns for decades, he said.

"It's a big deal in the sense that Dubai is finally going down that route," he said. "It's probably something DEWA should have done long ago."