Perhaps you've heard the argument that the world needs to move from coal to renewables at any cost. China now appears to be applying this idea quite literally.
In an amendment to a 2006 renewable energy law, the Chinese government has mandated that state-owned electric grid companies buy all of the renewable energy produced by generators, regardless of the price.
Wow. And I thought U.S. refiners were getting a rough deal with the pending U.S. climate legislation. I would not want to own Huaneng Power (NYSE: HNP) in a world where the price for electric generation is suddenly irrelevant. No wonder the company trades near a multi-year low.
Meanwhile, A-Power Energy Generation Systems (Nasdaq: APWR) and other wind players are likely to have a field day. Wind accounts for just 0.4% of China's power supply at present, but the country is doubling this capacity every year, like clockwork.
Yingli Green Energy (NYSE: YGE), Trina Solar (NYSE: TSL), and other solar players should benefit from this legislation as well, although utility-scale solar is still in its infancy. In October, Suntech Power (NYSE: STP) hooked China's first such project into the grid, and it was all of 10 megawatts. Really large solar projects, like the one First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR) is planning in Inner Mongolia, only exist on paper at this point.
As the country throws up more and more wind farms (with some in more rational locations than others), there are going to be some serious intermittency issues to deal with. That will require more baseload power. While nuclear and hydro can meet some of this demand, coal remains the go-to backup source. Even with this legislation in place, I would not expect coal-fired generation in China to decline any time soon.
I also wouldn't expect other countries to copy China's legislation. Unbridled subsidization of renewable energy can both strain a country's finances, and overwhelm transmission infrastructure. China is in a pretty unique situation to be able to throw this much cash at sub-economic energy generation. Few other countries could shoulder the rampant waste and inefficiency that will inevitably result. I'm not even convinced this will work out well for China, which has the money to burn.
Author's disclosure: no position in any company mentioned.