Something is going on today on the power pylons that dot the snow-capped hills a few kilometres outside the Austrian town of Aschach on the Danube. Men in safety gear are scaling the 40- to 50-metre-high steel structures and positioning themselves at the very top. Then things suddenly get noisy: somewhere in the distance the flapping sound of a rotor fills the air and a bright-red helicopter swoops into view. It trails what looks like an endless yellow cable behind it and hovers above each pylon so that the workers at the top can grab hold of the cable. They then thread it through big steel coils. Over the next few days, this two-centimetre-thick plastic rope will be used to position the steel electricity cables in the right spot.
This minutely planned spectacle marks an important milestone in the Danube Track project. Here, in Upper Austria, Austrian Power Grid AG (APG) is constructing a 110-kilometre-long high-voltage electricity line between the municipalities of St. Peter am Hart and Ernsthofen. The line carries electricity produced at the Danube power station in Aschach, feeding it through a series of substations into the Upper Austrian power grid and providing some 250,000 people and 50,000 small and large businesses with power. “After almost 80 years, the old line was no longer state of the art. So we decided to replace it with a modern one. The new line offers both higher performance and greater supply security,” says Gerhard Christiner, chief technical officer at APG. One advantage, he adds, is that the new pylons can be erected along the route of the old power line and thus have hardly any impact on the landscape.
What is more, the new line can be laid while the old one is still in operation, meaning without interruptions to the power supply. The new power line is made of more durable materials and boasts greater efficiency, thus enhancing both supply security and network stability. Grid losses will be reduced by around 70 percent and renewable energy sources can be more easily integrated into the new system. The project is due for completion in 2021.
“With the green Schuldschein we are focusing on the sustainability of the financed project – and that sits extremely well with our corporate culture.”
Dr. Peter Kollmann,
CFO of Verbund AG
that’s the length of the high-voltage line that Verbund AG is renewing in the Danube Track project.
This is a special project, and Verbund AG – APG’s parent company – selected a special financing instrument for it: a “green” Schuldschein for 100 million euros, maturing in ten years and – this is the real revolution – issued and managed for the first time solely via a digital platform
The Schuldschein was issued for a sustainable purpose that has been certified by specialised rating agencies. “We thoroughly examine investment projects before granting them a sustainability certification and thus qualifying them for financing by means of a green Schuldschein,” says Klaus Schuler, head of CRM for major corporates at Helaba. “The investment guidelines of many investors – especially institutional investors – prescribe a certain percentage of sustainable investments. This Schuldschein puts us in a position to offer them a suitable product.” He adds that the image gain for issuers and investors alike should not be underestimated.
Verbund AG is Austria’s biggest company – 51-percent state owned and with a market capitalisation of around 15 billion euros – and has long seen itself as a green enterprise. The utility produces electricity mainly using hydropower. “We are a sustainable technology company,” says Dr. Peter Kollmann, who launched the first green bond across the German-speaking countries in 2014. He is Verbund AG’s CFO and delighted to have had the opportunity to collaborate with Helaba on more than one occasion. “Helaba has a fast, reliable team, with whom we have enjoyed working together for many years now,” he says, adding: “They are always coming up with new, bespoke ideas: the fact that the Schuldschein is green emphasises, of course, the sustainability of the financed project. And the fully digital issue marks a milestone in the capital market – underscoring our digitalisation strategy.”
“The investment guidelines of many investors prescribe a certain percentage of sustainable investments.”
Head of CRM for major corporates at Helaba
But Kollmann sees further advantages, like the fact that Verbund AG has been able to broaden its investor base substantially. A single point of contact in the shape of Helaba made it considerably easier to manage the Schuldschein issue. At the same time, Kollmann is able to access liquidity at extremely favourable terms, something confirmed by Klaus Schuler: “The placement with savings banks means the Schuldschein benefits indirectly from that sector’s excellent funding base, which is down to its position as market leader in private-customer business.” In turn, the savings banks have an opportunity to participate in large-scale projects – an important factor for Helaba, as Schuler stresses: “Schuldschein instruments allow us to offer savings banks the type of lending business they would not otherwise be able to take part in due to their narrow geographical scope. We can thus perform one of our key tasks as a Landesbank within the Sparkassen organisation.”