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Boss of green energy investment firm has plan to power homes

Vision: Helen Mahy in the six-acre wood she planted at her Surrey home

Helen Mahy, chairwoman of one of Britain’s biggest green energy investment firms, is determined to show off her own sustainability credentials. Striding around the Surrey farm she shares with husband Mark and their two spaniels, the City grandee gamely clambers over a fence to pose for photos in the six-acre wood she planted in her back field to ‘do my bit for the environment in my local area’. 

‘It’s a mixed wood, so hopefully it will encourage wildlife,’ says Mahy, who bought the field to save it from developers and has planted 1,000 trees. ‘Once we can take the fences down because the trees are big enough for the deer not to eat, we’ll put dormice boxes in and encourage owls to nest there. You don’t grow a wood in five minutes,’ she adds. 

Mahy has spent the last eight years building up The Renewables Infrastructure Group, often just referred to as TRIG, into the biggest green energy investment firm listed on the London Stock Exchange and whose projects power 1.4million homes across Europe with clean energy. 

The FTSE250 company is now worth £2.6billion, up from £300million at the time of its stock exchange launch in 2013, and has invested in 77 wind, solar and battery storage projects across the UK and Europe. 

Now Mahy, who also sits on the board of energy giant SSE, has launched a series of fundraisings to amass around £720million over the next 12 months for more acquisitions.

Phase one closed last month raising £240million from institutions and small investors to pay down debt on recent deals such as a 17.5per cent stake in the £2.5billion Beatrice windfarm off the coast of Caithness in Scotland. 

Future acquisitions could include solar projects on the Iberian peninsula in Spain, where the costs of installing solar panels have ‘come down hugely’, Mahy says, as well as investments in windfarms in Sweden, Germany and France. 

‘This is the first phase for our immediate needs. But we have a strong pipeline of assets we want to buy, so if they come along we may be going out [to investors] rather sooner than otherwise,’ she says. 

Mahy, 60, is a seasoned board director at City firms including private equity business SVG Capital, transport group Stagecoach and Aga Rangemaster. A trained barrister, she also previously worked as general counsel and company secretary at National Grid overseeing an army of more than a million shareholders keen to engage after its 1995 stock market listing. 

TRIG’s retail investors – estimated in the tens of thousands – are equally vocal, she says. Several dozen small shareholders complained when they were excluded from buying shares in the company’s £320million fundraising last year. Mahy wrote back to each one reassuring them of their stake in TRIG’s growth alongside fund giants such as Investec, Rathbones Newton Asset Management and M&G. 

‘This time I have been very keen to do an open offer so all shareholders, whether they are retail or institutions, can participate,’ she says of her plans for the Guernseyregistered company. 

The green credentials might come with the territory for TRIG, which aligns its sustainability programmes with UN climate change goals. Mahy says it does its ‘micro-bit for the environment’ through eco-schemes such as planting flower meadows to boost bee populations at its projects in France, where sheep graze between the solar panels. One TRIG insider even suggests the firm’s own-brand honey could be on supermarket shelves soon. But, as stock market newcomer Deliveroo faces a barrage of criticism for its treatment of workers, Mahy is keen to emphasise the company’s record makes it a heavyweight in what is now referred to as ESG – environmental, social, and governance standards. 

‘If I was going to see institutional investors say three years ago the ESG questions would come at the end of a presentation. Now it’s completely different: funds are really focusing on the environmental performance, they really want to know what you are doing in your local communities. The fund managers, the people who pull their strings, are saying, ‘Can you be sure this isn’t just greenwashing?’ I believe if you can leave the world in a slightly better place than when you came into it, that’s a good thing,’ she says. 

She points to a deal on its £500million credit facility with a group of banks, for example, which means the company pays up to £500,000 less on interest payments each year if it hits pre-agreed ESG targets. 

‘I constantly get people saying to me, ‘ESG, it’s a bit fluffy round the edges’. But actually, if you have it built into your loan facility it is a really core part of your business. ‘If we power more green homes, if we fund more community projects, if we maintain our good safety record, we effectively pay less for the loan,’ she says. 

It is also undoubtedly riding the wave of Government-driven green targets. Roughly three-quarters of TRIG’s projects have some element of government subsidy, such as feed-in tariffs or renewable energy certificates. Mahy won’t disclose the value of those subsidies to TRIG, which made £100million pre-tax profits in 2020 and hopes to pay a 6.76p per share dividend this year despite falling power prices. 

Meanwhile, TRIG is lobbying the Government for support for upgrading windfarms when they start coming to the end of their lifespans, known as ‘repowering’. Mahy says: ‘A lot of existing windfarms will be 30 years old in the next 20 years, and people will want to build new turbines that are even more efficient. Are we going to get regulatory support for doing that? That is really core to our business.’

BIG FIRMS WILL BE FORCED TO REVEAL CLIMATE COSTS 

Every large company in the UK will be forced to reveal climaterelated financial risks under a new Government scheme expected to become law by the end of the year. 

Published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the proposals will apply to every quoted company with more than 500 employees, as well as private firms and partnerships with a similar sized workforce and a turnover of more than £500million. Disclosure of climate-related financial risks has previously been voluntary, but the Government believes it needs to go further. 

The move is part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s declared ambition to make the UK carbon neutral by 2050. It is a first among the G20 group of nations, which includes the European Union, the US, Canada and China. It comes as the Government revealed greenhouse gas emissions fell by almost 9 per cent last year – the largest decline since records began in 1990. Total emissions are nearly 50 per cent lower than 30 years ago. A slump in traffic and business activity contributed to the decline, while the use of more renewable power also helped. 

Many firms support efforts to cut emissions, but the proposals are likely to cause great concern. British Chambers of Commerce coexecutive director Hannah Essex said: ‘With many firms simply trying to stay afloat as they weather the coronavirus storm and the end of the Brexit transition period, it’s no surprise some haven’t engaged yet on the drive to net zero.’ 

However, the Green party’s Molly Scott Cato urged the Government to extend the law to include full reporting on environmental, social and governance impacts.

                                                                                                                                     Joanne Hart 

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