US OPIC $250m for Israel CSP

The US government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has approved a $250m construction loan for a 110MW Abengoa-backed concentrated solar power (CSP) project in Israel.

The loan was approved for Negev Energy-Ashalim Thermo-Solar, a project company jointly owned by Spain’s Abengoa and Israeli developer Shikun & Binui Renewable Energy, and which last summer won a tender to build and operate the plant in Israel’s southern Negev desert.

Construction on the plant is due to commence this year, and should finish by 2017.

OPIC suggests the project will have built-in energy-storage capability.

The loan – OPIC’s first ever for a CSP project – is somewhat unusual in supporting a project which does not apparently include any US-based companies.

OPIC – the US government’s development-finance institution – has supported a variety of major renewables projects around the world in recent years, but nearly all have a US-based company attached to them.

OPIC’s website says that it requires that its projects “have a meaningful connection to the US private sector”.

In recent months OPIC has provided loans to PV projects in Chile and South Africa (backed by SunEdison) and a wind farm in Pakistan (slated to use GE turbines).

The ownership structure of Shikun & Binui Renewable Energy – part of Israel’s Shikun & Binui Group – is not clear.

Abengoa, among the world’s most important CSP players, recently listed shares in New York and has said it may de-list in Madrid in the coming years given the Spanish government’s increasingly antagonistic approach to renewables.

US-based CSP specialist BrightSource – whose landmark Ivanpah project was recently completed in California – has alongside Alstom been allocated a second, similarly sized CSP project in the Negev. BrightSource's project does not appear to be as advanced as Abengoa's.

OPIC chief executive Elizabeth Littlefield says Abengoa's project will demonstrate "how to provide a tremendously effective source of clean energy in a region dependent on fossil fuel”.

"Due to thermal storage capability and other efficiency improvements, the capacity of a CSP plant can be more than twice that of a solar photovoltaic plant," Littlefield notes.