Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Appraisal of proposed solar farms in Ecuador

      Corn farm at almost 10,000 feet above sea level

In my native land of southern California, it is becoming common to turn marginal agricultural land into photovoltaic solar farms, particularly in Kern County, the Mojave Desert and Imperial County.  Some parcels have a unique advantage if they are located near a power grid substation, near a major city (Los Angeles or Las Vegas), and have enough water available for keeping dust off of the machinery (about one acre-foot of water per 20 megawatts of production. One acre-foot is equivalent to the water needs of about 4 households.)

Many landowners in these areas, most of whom are absentee, hope to get phone calls from solar farm builders who want to lease or buy their land.

Other countries have “Green initiatives”, too, and such initiatives give hope to owners of marginal agricultural land in Ecuador.

The farms I appraised were at opposite ends of Ecuador.   One was located about 20 km north of Quito, Ecuador’s second largest city, at an elevation of almost 10,000 feet above sea level, and one was located in the low-lying Guayas province about 50 km west of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city.

        High voltage transmission lines on subject property

Both farms had high voltage electrical transmission towers on their properties, but only the Quito property was near a power grid substation, 2 km away in Pomasqui, which provides power to the entire northern half of the Quito metro area, having a total population of 1.5 million residents. This solar farm operator planned to supply power directly to the high voltage lines on his properties, which can be done in Ecuador because the power grid has single government ownership in Ecuador vs. the multiple private ownerships that sometimes govern power lines in parts of the United States.

This being the case, that anyone with a high voltage transmission tower on his property in Ecuador could supply electricity to the Grid, greatly increases the supply of available sites and provides little or no financial advantage to the landowner compared to his neighbors.  Neighboring farms with power lines near the Guayas property were selling in the range of $900 to $2000 per hectare.  Not a lot of value there. 

The property near Pomasqui was very difficult to appraise due to its unique flaws -- steep slopes and lack of accessibility; solar farms are not considered viable on slopes exceeding 10%. The escritura (deed) indicated that the property had been purchased for 1,680,000 sucres in 1997.  That sounds impressive until one learns that the Ecuadorian sucre was replaced by the dollar in 2001 at an exchange rate of 25,000 sucres per dollar, making the purchase price effectively worth about $67. Then again, it is common in Latin America to record false purchase prices in order to minimize transfer taxes.

To make matters worse, the borrower did not even own the land serving as collateral for the loans. Never was a purchase mentioned, either.  There was a misunderstanding of the concept of "loan collateral". A collateral lender expects the loan proceeds to go towards immediate purchase of the land; otherwise, what else is there to provide security for the loan?

Another complication for this assignment was that the client, a private lender, ordered an “as is” appraisal, and the borrower did not even have licenses yet for the solar farms. So the properties had to be appraised as agricultural land, which was a big disappointment to the borrowers.

In any case, there is not yet an established “market” for solar farms in Ecuador, making valuation a very difficult process, and even if there was one, 99% of the value is in the improvements and little value is in the land. 

PS: I have received several inquiries asking who is financing construction of solar photovoltaic cell farms, but the only financiers that I am aware of can only lend upon substantial existing assets. Any solar photovoltaic construction lenders are welcome to introduce themselves in the comments that follow.

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1 comment:

Réal said...

Reference: Ecuador Solar Farms

Although I see the proximity of high power lines, higher altitudes, clear skies and constant sun angles(no seasons) in equador being very advantageous, I fail to see the economics behind it.
With gas, petrol and to some extent electricity being very inexpensive, is there value in reselling solar power to the state? Are the advantages first listed enough to offset low prices with high solar power production per panel?