DUBAI (Reuters) - SoftBank has hired Deutsche Bank to advise on its power investment plans in Saudi Arabia, two sources familiar with the matter said.
The Japanese firm, which is planning to invest in a giant solar power plant in the kingdom, has also shown interest in electricity distribution in the world’s top oil exporter, they said.
One source said SoftBank could consider purchasing a minority stake in Saudi Electricity from the Public Investment Fund (PIF) sovereign wealth fund.
“They want to become a minority shareholder of influence,” the source told Reuters.
PIF owns a 74 percent stake in Saudi Electricity. The other major shareholder is state oil giant Aramco, which owns a nearly 7 percent stake.
A SoftBank spokeswoman declined to comment. PIF and Deutsche Bank also declined comment. Saudi Electricity did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
In March, SoftBank Group Chief Executive Masayoshi Son said he had signed an agreement to create the world’s biggest solar power generation company in Saudi Arabia which would have a capacity of 200 gigawatts by 2030.
More details on the project are expected to be disclosed in the first quarter of next year, a third source said.
Son has defended SoftBank’s ties with Saudi Arabia following a global outcry over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country’s Istanbul consulate last month, saying his firm has a responsibility to Saudi citizens whose money is invested in its Vision Fund.
Saudi Arabia has provided about half of the $93 billion raised by SoftBank for the fund, which has become one of the primary funding vehicles for technology firms around the world.
Saudi Arabia is embarking on a push to transform its economy and reduce its dependence on oil. It views solar power as a way to cut the amount of crude it uses to generate power at home and raise its overseas shipments.
The government also wants to privatize Saudi Electricity as part of wider reforms to its energy sector. It had planned to split the Gulf’s largest utility firm into separate companies that would be offered either to local citizens through IPOs or to local or international corporate partners.
But the plan has been delayed as the kingdom reviewed energy subsidies to cut domestic consumption and reduce waste.
The state says it will gradually increase energy prices until 2020, helping the company to achieve a more sustainable financial model.
To meet rising demand, Saudi Electricity has had to increase its capex through borrowing. It has over 160 billion riyals ($42.7 billion) of debt, nearly half of it from commercial loans.
Additional reporting by Marwa Rashad in Riyadh, Katie Paul in Dubai and Sam Nussey in Tokyo; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous/Keith Weir