Lao PDR, Cambodia, and Myanmar have been expanding their hydro generation capacity significantly over the past decade. However, the development of large-scale hydro projects is increasingly facing a host of social and environmental challenges.
Lao PDR, which has successfully tapped its hydro resources in recent years with Chinese investment, is now in the midst of a diversification to coal-fired generation and also looking to tap into renewable sources.
The large capacity expansions in the CLMV energy sector will require significant investment. A recent World Bank study on Vietnam estimates power sector requires investment of $US152 billion to $US185 billion between 2016 and 2030 across generation, transmission, and distribution.
Other independent projections prepared for Myanmar, Lao PDR, and Cambodia peg the cumulative power sector investment requirement over 2015 to 2049 at $US167 billion – an average of $US4.8bn annually, likely be front-loaded over the period.
The above estimates include generation CAPEX, grid electrification, off-grid investment, and energy efficiency in billions of real 2014 $US and represent a business-as-usual scenario in which no additional efforts have been made to achieve a near-100 per cent renewable-energy sector.
Traditionally, the financing of energy infrastructure creation in the CLMV economies has relied mostly on public investment. Governments have been on-lending concessional, foreign currency-denominated funds from international financial institutions (IFIs) and development partners, to state-owned enterprises (SOEs).
Governments have also been guaranteeing SOEs direct borrowing from domestic and foreign commercial banks. Most infrastructure projects have been developed by local and foreign private companies, under the build-operate-transfer (BOT) arrangement.
Upstream gas exploration and production have been facilitated through production-sharing contracts between SOEs and foreign petroleum and gas majors, while midstream infrastructure projects have been completed through BOT contracts with foreign infrastructure firms.
Given the sheer size of investment requirements, energy infrastructure financing will come under increasing pressure in the coming years. The fiscal space available to run higher deficits and raise public debt levels is running out.
Vietnam’s debt is nearing the statutory debt limit of 65 per cent of GDP and fiscal consolidation is underway in Lao PDR as well. While Cambodia has low public debt levels, it has rising fiscal deficits and is constrained by a low savings rate.
With income levels rising, Vietnam’s access to highly concessional finance will also become increasingly constrained. In addition, with most countries trying to push renewable energy investments, the need for long-gestation financing at favourable terms will increase.
Increasingly, the CLMV region will have to start mobilising alternative sources of finance and cannot rely completely on traditional sources.
One such method for raising finance is direct participation by private players in infrastructure projects. Since 2008, Vietnam and Lao PDR have cumulatively received $US14.9 billion and $US13.9 billion worth of private investment, respectively.
Most investment commitments have come through in recent years and have been concentrated in the energy sector.
Energy projects may also have to increasingly tap domestic and foreign commercial banks on non-concessional terms, as well as institutional investors, such as pension funds and insurance companies.
The latter group of investors have longer-term liabilities and have been looking at funding emerging market infrastructure lately. Governments can continue to play a key role in facilitating such investments through blended or viability-gap financing.
Arun Navaratna is a senior economist at ANZ