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Canadian Solar lands big Australia contract

Canadian Solar Inc. on Oct. 18 said it landed a contract to supply solar modules and construction-related services for a large solar project in Australia that is owned by Total Eren SA, a French renewable energy company.

The output of the 256-MW Kiamal Solar Farm in southeast Australia is secured under power purchase agreements with energy retailers including Flow Power and Alinta Energy, as well as a 20-year contract with Mars Australia Pty. Ltd., a subsidiary of the consumer goods company Mars Inc. Mars Australia in May said it signed power purchase agreements with Total Eren equivalent to 100% of its electricity use.

Australia is one of a handful of emerging solar markets where "the next phase of growth is expected," Canadian Solar Chairman, President and CEO Xiaohua "Shawn" Qu said on an earnings call in May. "Our global footprint is directly aligned with these developing markets, giving us a competitive advantage and valuable head start."

Australia accounted for about 1%, or $48.1 million, of the $3.39 billion Canadian Solar generated in revenue in 2017, according to an annual filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. In January, the company signed a contract with Photon Energy N.V. to co-develop five solar projects in Australia totaling approximately 1,140 MW.

In addition to supplying solar modules for the Kiamal project, the contract calls for Candian Solar and Biosar, a solar project developer, to jointly provide engineering, procurement and construction services. The project is expected to start commercial operation in mid-2019.

Total Eren is partially owned by France-headquartered oil major TOTAL SA, the majority owner of SunPower Corp., a U.S.-based solar panel manufacturer that recently exited the highly competitive power plant development business.

In addition to emerging markets like Australia, Canadian Solar is looking to Europe, in particular, to make up for a slowdown in China's solar market and U.S. tariffs on imported solar cells and panels that President Donald Trump imposed in January.

"We see blow-away success in Europe," Qu said in an interview with S&P Global Market Intelligence in October, about a month after the European Commission lifted import restrictions on Chinese solar panels. Canadian Solar is headquartered in Canada but performs most of its manufacturing in China.

Canadian Solar's board of directors is considering an offer from Qu to privatize the manufacturer and project developer at a price of $18.47 per share. Canadian Solar shares closed at $15.02 on Oct. 18, down about 13% since Dec. 8, 2017, the last trading day before Qu's offer was disclosed.

In August, Lion Point Capital LP, an investment manager and Canadian Solar shareholder, offered upward of $250 million to help finance the deal.