Roughly 60 per cent of the chargeable time generated by Chadbourne & Parke’s project finance group in the past five years has been on renewable energy and biofuels projects.
That surprising statistic is largely borne out of a bet the firm made around six years ago on three sectors in the US: renewables, infrastructure and biofuels. Renewables, in particular, paid off very handsomely indeed.
“The renewables sector in the US has exploded and Chadbourne has been a big beneficiary,” concedes Rohit Chaudhry, the firm’s co-chair of project finance. “It’s an outdated view that the deal size in the renewables sector is small. You’re now seeing 550MW, $3bn deals in the renewables sector.”
Chadbourne, easily among the dominant firms in the US in this sector, has worked on roughly half of the US Department of Energy (DoE) loan guarantees issued or committed to, representing the government on eight projects that have benefited from the tax-driven structures designed to boost investment in this area.
The firm believes that, thanks to specialist lawyers such as group co-head Keith Martin, it has snared a larger share of this market than any of its rivals.
Chadbourne is also advising developers and lenders on some three-dozen projects, including the first two US nuclear projects developed in the past 30 years, the first solar thermal project to obtain a DoE loan guarantee, the largest wind project to obtain a DoE loan guarantee and the largest solar power project being developed in the US.
The strategic push into the sector was kicked off by a lateral hiring campaign that saw two partners – Ed Zaelke and Adam Umanoff – from Morgan Lewis & Bockius’s Los Angeles office join the firm and help it grow its West Coast presence in renewables. The firm suffered a setback in its ambitions, however, when the pair decamped for rival Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in May.
Also in the US, partners Noam Ayali and Andrea Satty advised the lenders on the $1.5bn debt financing of the Ruby pipeline project.
Overseas, Chadbourne’s energy practice is based primarily on more traditional sources of energy, with London and the Middle East dominated by thermal.
The firm has long enjoyed a strong presence in the Turkish corporate market, with partner Ayse Yüksel being particularly well-known. It is currently looking to leverage off that and expand its energy practice with an Istanbul launch, with partners privately conceding that the firm has missed out in the past because of the lack of a Turkish office.
“The banks are talking about Turkey as being the next site of explosive growth,” confirms Chaudhry.
Also in the Middle East, partner Agnieszka Klich advised the GDF Suez-led consortium on the $1.3bn debt financing of Barka 3 and Sohar 2 power projects in Oman.
Critics of Chadbourne claim that, although its project finance and energy credentials are nigh on faultless, the firm has failed to convert that into a top-tier M&A practice.
But Chaudhry insists: “We see more than our fair share of M&A in energy. It’s true that in utility M&A we haven’t done that much but we’ve done a lot for European investors entering the US market.”
Certainly, the firm has not been as active as others in the US shale market.
“But we’ve been active in power and renewables, and we certainly do want to play in the shale space and think we have the tools,” maintains Chaudhry.
That raises the question of the viability of a Houston office for Chadbourne. Some five years ago the firm closed its office in the city. Could it be about to make a return?
“When we had an office it was a useful outpost but one key client led us to open there and then turned out to be not as active as we’d thought,” says Chaudhry. “It’s not a high priority – very much on the distant horizon.”
In contrast, last year Chadbourne opened a Sao Paulo office, its second in Latin America after Mexico City.
Rohit Chaudhry, Agnieszka Klich, Keith Martin, Adam Wenner
Top three sectors
Top three geographical regions
Middle East (including Turkey)
$1.3bn debt financing of Barka 3 and Sohar 2 power projects in Oman
Client: GDF Suez-led consortium
Lead partner:Agnieszka Klich
Ruby pipeline project, $1.5bn debt financing in the US
Client: Lending banks
Lead partners: Noam Ayali, Andrea Satty
Shepherds Flat $2bn wind farm in Oregon
Client: Caithness Energy and GE Energy Financial Services
Lead partners: Adam Umanoff, Paul Weber