Russian banks set to seize Crimean solar power plants

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Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that Activ Solar currently managed PV plants in Crimea. Activ Solar has since confirmed to pv magazine that it no longer operates in Crimea. We regret the error.

Russian state-owned banks are set to seize a total of 200 MW of solar power plants in the Crimea due to huge debts and the inability to repay them, according to the Russian Ministry of Energy.

Among the banks that financed the PV projects are Sberbank, VTB and VEB as well as Ukraine’s Oschadbank. The current combined debt of the Crimean solar power plants is estimated at €800 million.

The main reason behind the financial difficulties of the Crimean solar power plants is the lack of feed-in tariffs following the region’s annexation. Under Ukrainian jurisdiction, the feed-in tariffs was set at €0.446 per kilowatt hour, which ensured profitability of the projects. Following the country’s annexation, however, the feed-in tariff was reduced dramatically to just €0.057 per kilowatt hour, resulting in the suspension of the projects.

The targeted solar PV plants include installations built by Austrian company Activ Solar, which has constructed some 407 MW of solar power capacity in Crimea. Of these, about 227.5 MW were connected to the Crimean grid prior to its annexation by Russia last year.

Activ Solar confirmed to pv magazine that it is no longer active in Crimea and does not manage or maintain any solar installations there.

According to a VEB spokesman, the bank in the past financed the construction of an Activ Solar power plant with a capacity of 110 MW.

Activ Solar denied Russian and Ukrainian media reports last year that claimed its debt to Russian banks was as high as $300 million, calling the allegations "incorrect" and adding that it did not "have any related loan exposure to Russian banks."

Oschadbank estimates the total debt that it is owed by Crimean solar plants at RUB 25 billion (€427 million).

In the meantime, Russian banks are calling on the Russian government to design measures to support Crimea’s solar industry.

The government and banks are currently considering various options, including the introduction of contracts for the supply of power, the increase of tariffs, the provision of state subsidies to developers and assignment of debts to third parties. Plans are also afoot to attract Russian developers to further develop solar PV projects in Crimea. According to Russian government estimates, Crimean solar power plants would become profitable with capital expenditures of RUB 50,000 (€854) per kilowatt.

The government has already promised support for the localization of equipment for solar power plants in the country.