SoftBank Said to Plan $1.2 Billion Solar Plant in Saudi Arabia

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Masayoshi Son and Mohammed bin Salman in March 2018. Photographer: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg

SoftBank Group Corp. is planning to develop a $1.2 billion solar power plant in Saudi Arabia, even as it faces growing scrutiny over its relationship with the kingdom, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The plant, to the north of Riyadh, would generate 1.8 gigawatts of power, the people said, asking not to be identified because the plans are private. SoftBank has started preliminary talks with banks and developers to gauge interest in the facility, they said.

Plans for the facility are at an early stage and SoftBank may decide to change the size of the plant or not proceed with it, the people said. The plant would be a pilot project for Saudi Arabia’s wider plans to build more solar power facilities, they said.

SoftBank has faced criticism over its relationship with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the murder of government critic Jamal Khashoggi. Last month, the kingdom admitted Khashoggi had been killed inside its consulate in Istanbul, prompting international outrage. The country’s Public Investment Fund is the largest investor in SoftBank’s $100 billion Vision Fund as Masayoshi Son forged personal ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Multi-Billion Dollar Projects

The PIF “continues to work with the SoftBank Vision Fund, and other parties, on a number of large-scale, multi-billion dollar projects relating to the solar industry, which will be announced in due course, including solar power generation,” a spokesman for the fund said in an emailed statement. “Alongside this, the kingdom is moving forward with the overall renewable energy strategy, through which Saudi Arabia aims to be a leading and reliable diversified supplier of renewable energy.” A spokesman for SoftBank didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Saudi Arabia and SoftBank signed a memorandum of understanding in March to develop 200 gigawatts of solar power facilities, that would be larger than any other. SoftBank and the PIF last month said they’re continuing to collaborate on solar energy plans after the Wall Street Journal said their $200 billion development was put on hold.

Saudi Arabia is seeking to overhaul its energy industry to stop burning oil and gas that are more profitable to export. As part of this strategy, it plans to build at least 16 nuclear reactors over the next 25 years, and is also developing its first wind power plant and a 300-megawatt solar plant.