May 4, 2018 / 2:45 PM / a year ago

Norway's opposition calls for decision on wealth fund's investment in unlisted renewables

OSLO (Reuters) - Norway should press ahead with plans to discuss whether to allow its $1 trillion wealth fund to invest in unlisted renewables projects and ought to consider a much bigger margin than initially proposed, the opposition Labour party said on Friday.

Norwegian politicians are debating whether the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund should invest in a new asset class on top of the existing stocks, bonds and real estate it holds.

While there is broad support to allow the fund to invest in unlisted infrastructure such as solar parks and wind farms, the finance ministry said last month it was too early to present a bill to parliament on the subject, without providing a precise timeline.

“I think we will ask the government comes back with a concrete mandate so that we can take a decision next year,” Labour’s Svein Roald Hansen, a member of parliament’s finance committee, told Reuters on the margins of a parliamentary hearing.

“It should be a mandate about opening the fund to invest in renewable unlisted infrastructure. At the latest, it should be in next year’s white paper,” he said.

The finance ministry said last month it was concerned about the political risk of the fund being stuck in a problematic investment it cannot get out of as easily as if it were a listed company.

It also said at the time that, were the fund to be allowed to go into unlisted renewables projects, it should be limited to the fund’s current green investment mandate, which amounted to 75 billion crowns ($9.30 billion) at end-2017. Green groups say this is too low.

Labour’s Hansen agreed. “The sum needs to increase sufficiently,” he said, without specifying by how much.

Earlier, Finance Minister Siv Jensen told a parliamentary hearing about the fund that she aimed to address this question next year.

“My aim is to come back to this in connection with next year’s white paper,” Jensen told the hearing, adding that she was seeking more information from the central bank, which manages the fund.

The fund’s management wants to invest in unlisted projects. Central bank governor Oeystein Olsen reiterated on Friday that the fund, if allowed, would proceed “carefully”.

“We would not invest in immature markets,” Olsen told the hearing.

($1 = 8.0621 Norwegian crowns)

Additional reporting by Terje Solsvik, editing by David Evans and Louise Heavens

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