Collaborating to close deals: A conversation with OPIC’s Nancy Rivera
The dealmaker behind many OPIC-supported Electrify Africa projects is Nancy Rivera, OPIC Managing Director for Structured Finance. Rivera has worked for more than 20 years to finance developing market power projects and has recently focused much of her work to address Africa’s energy poverty, negotiating projects from Senegal to South Africa.
Talk a bit about your background in project finance and how it has prepared you to work to support power projects in Africa.
Over the past two decades, I’ve acquired a lot of experience in countries that had little or no practice implementing project finance to support public-private partnerships. At OPIC we are accustomed to collaborating across different players in local governments, from the regulators to the national utilities, the central bank and the ministries of electricity and finance. All these players usually have an important role in a project’s implementation and in the long-term sustainability of a project.
How has Africa’s business landscape changed in recent years?
Africa historically lagged much of the world in terms of private sector participation in the electricity sector for many reasons but Electrify Africa has provided a huge boost to private sector investments on the continent. Today we see more deal flow for power projects across the continent than in any other part of the world. The risk perception of Africa has also significantly changed; international best practices are being accepted and implemented to address technical, legal and political risks. We are seeing this reflected in the levels of return private investors consider acceptable.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered in Africa?
Getting these projects to the point where they can begin construction is labor intensive! Many times there are unrealistic expectations as to the speed with which contracts are finalized so that the plant is built and actually produces electricity. While the international community has many years and deals of experience, along with industry experts that provide advice on all areas of these projects, many aspects of these projects’ implementation may be new to countries. The ability of local governments to seek international experts, both technical and legal, is a challenge. We find that progress can be achieved more rapidly where governments do engage international advisors.
Explain how OPIC collaborates with other U.S. Government agencies on power projects in Africa.
Different parts of the U.S. Government – from the State Department and the Department of Commerce to USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corporation and USTDA – have all been able to provide their expertise in providing support at different stages from sector reform early on, through tendering of projects and their implementation, to ensure projects successfully close in a timely way.