Japan’s Megabanks Vie for Top Role as Backers of Clean Energy

Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. and Mizuho Financial Group Inc. are in a neck-and-neck race to be the biggest lead arrangers of lending to the renewable energy industry in the first half of the year, highlighting the more active financing role for Japanese banks in clean energy.

Tokyo-based MUFG has the edge over Mizuho in writing project finance loans to clean-energy developers for the period, according to data compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. As of Thursday, MUFG was credited with $1.697 billion of asset financing, compared with $1.662 billion for Mizuho, the BNEF data show.

Japan’s support for renewables since the Fukushima disaster in 2011 and the search for steady yields outside the country have helped push the nation’s lenders into the top tiers among their global rivals. In 2011, only MUFG was in the top five lenders exposed to asset finance deals in clean energy, according to BNEF. Last year, three of the five biggest lenders were Japanese.

“Japan’s megabanks have been expanding on the back of heightened interest in renewables such as solar after the earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku,” said Takashi Miura, an analyst at Credit Suisse Group AG in Tokyo. “And they’re also doing more because they can secure relatively good margins.”

MUFG’s focus on lending to solar, wind and geothermal projects in the first half has helped solidify its hold on the top position among global financial institutions that it assumed last year when it passed Banco Santander SA. Mizuho, which was fifth in lending to clean-energy developers in 2016, is aiming to challenge MUFG with a push beyond solar and wind into other areas such as biomass.

“Mega solar has been our focus since 2012,” Toshikazu Tanaka, head of the project finance team at Mizuho, said in an interview at the bank’s Tokyo headquarters. “The business environment for power producers is changing and solar may not expand as much as it did before. We will work on expansion into new fields.”

Solar Cuts

Mizuho’s focus on other clean-energy sources comes after tariffs for solar power producers in Japan dropped by nearly half since 2012 to 21 yen a kilowatt-hour this year. A change in government backing is also underway since the introduction of new rules in April, with photovoltaic projects of 2 megawatts in capacity or larger now subject to auctions.

In February, Mizuho provided a $586.5 million loan for a wind portfolio in Texas and Oklahoma, the largest loan the bank provided so far this year, according to BNEF data. Mizuho was the sole lender to the 700-megawatt projects sponsored by Duke Energy Corp., according to the bank.

“The ratio of renewables in global power demand is steadily increasing and clean energy is also expanding outside developed countries,” Kazunobu Takahara, a spokesman for MUFG said. “We will continue our active financing for renewables projects.”

As for Mizuho, five of the 11 projects it financed were for solar projects in Japan this year as of Thursday. The bank also funded two photovoltaic stations in the U.S. and the 80-megawatt Muara Laboh geothermal plant by Engie SA, Sumitomo Corp., and PT Supreme Energy.

Mizuho is betting on continuing developments of offshore wind projects in Europe, according to Toru Miyabe, head of the power team at the bank’s global project finance department.  

Currently, offshore wind capacity totals more than 13 gigawatts worldwide, with nearly 90 percent of installations in Europe. Offshore capacity is expected to reach 174 gigawatts by 2040, according a BNEF forecast released on June 15.

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