French oil company Total SA is among the final bidders for a stake in an offshore wind farm that may cost more than $7 billion to develop and operate, according to people familiar with the matter.
The move is significant because it highlights growing interest from major oil companies in renewables assets. It also would be the first facility of its kind in the U.K. built without full state support, making it more risky than what’s been built to date.
The British utility SSE Plc is developing the wind farm in Scotland’s section of the North Sea. It’s seeking partners to help shoulder the costs and risks.
For Total, buying into the 1,075-megawatt Seagreen project forms a foundation for its ambition to develop offshore wind farms in Europe, putting it in competition with Royal Dutch Shell Plc to break into the growing market for offshore wind assets.
The multi-billion-dollar projects at sea have become the specialty of European energy companies looking to capitalize on the global energy transition. They’re attractive to oil companies because their scale and the skills needed to build them make them similar to offshore oil projects.
With the purchase, Total could gain expertise that would help it achieve its aim to bid in forthcoming government offshore-wind auctions.
Total is hiring in the U.K. and Denmark to prepare to compete in offshore wind auctions there. The French company has stakes in 3 gigawatts of renewable-power capacity and seeks to double that in 2020. It targets 25 gigawatts by 2025.
Total declined to comment. SSE confirmed it’s interesting in selling a stake in the project, but a spokesperson wouldn’t discuss details of that process.
The project is expected to cost 5.7 billion pounds ($7.3 billion) over its lifetime.
In September, SSE won a 15-year government contract to sell 454 megawatts of power, less than half of the wind farm’s capacity. That leaves most of the project’s output at the mercy of swings in power markets — unless its owner can pin down a long-term power-purchase agreement.
The price SSE achieved in the government auction was 41.61 pounds per megawatt-hour in 2012 prices. With such a low price, it’s possible that the market-rate portion of the project could actually earn more. But without a government contract, the project lacks that security that’s helped bring down the cost of financing the massive green energy projects in recent years.