Reporter's Notebook: Hobnobbing and hijinks at REFF Wall Street
Renewables project finance enthusiasts flocked to a secluded conference center in midtown Manhattan earlier this week for REFF Wall Street 2021, after being deprived of events to attend over the last year-and-a-half. PFR editor Taryana Odayar and reporter Alfie Crooks were on site to catch the goings-on.
On the morning of September 28, attendees were seen forming neat lines in the lobby of 360 Madison – a much more modest venue compared to the conference's previous home in the swanky digs of the Intercontinental Barclay – to have their Covid-19 vaccination cards checked by organizers.
"It's a super spreader event," exclaimed one conference-goer who had hardly ventured outside his home office. Another expressed trepidation at the prospect of shaking so many hands at one time.
The venue also played host to the IJLatAm 2021 conference, which was held just one floor below the REFF event, and drew movers and shakers from Latin America's infrastructure and energy sector. Curious conference-goers were oberved flitting between the two floors, discreetly (or so they thought) passing out business cards to attendees at both events during strategically timed networking and coffee breaks.
Once the panel discussions got underway, several attendees were quick to compliment Starwood Energy's Himanshu Saxena's smooth prose during a panel on grid resilience and modernization. "Fantastic panelists, especially Himanshu," said one project finance head. "He'd be a great radio host on Easy Listening stations."
Other project finance luminaries at the event included Ares Management Corp's Steven Porto, US Bank's Darren Van't Hof, James Wright of CIBC Capital Markets, Nuveen's Bob Cantey, KKR & Co's Benoit Allehaut, Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners' Henrik Tordrup and Jon Yellen of OGCI Climate Investments.
Meanwhile, Rabobank's Claus Hertel and KeyBanc Capital Market's Aaron Klein made full use of their time, imparting nuggets of wisdom on energy storage and renewables financing at not one, but two panel discussions on the same day.
Ralph Cho was noticeably missing from the event, despite having signed up to attend as evidenced by his uncollected name tag at the registration table. "I wanted to come!" said the Investec banker. "I've been hosting meetings all day for Stonewall," he added, alluding to the $500 million refinancing that recently launched into the B market for Ares' gas-fired plant of the same name in Virginia (PFR, 9/17).
At lunchtime, shoals of hungry project finance afficionados poured out of the conference hall, where they were handed Japanese-style red and black bento boxes rather than plates for reasons that could not be learned by press time. Tasty beef bourguignon, chicken katsu, smoked salmon and mini focaccia pizzas were ladled into the lunch boxes and cradled at a dearth of standing-height cocktail tables by some, while others roamed around looking for a place to sit.
There was a brief moment of excitement at the end of the first day of the two-day event, when a group of Latin American dealmakers who had wandered outside the venue were temporarily prevented from re-entering, as the elevator attendant with the associated keycard had abandoned his post. After frantic calls to the conference organizers, the delegates were safely escorted back up.
While many used the REFF and IJLatAm events to drill fellow attendees on deals in the market, some used it as an opportunity to meet new teammates and colleagues for the first time, and the rest seemed quite happy just catching up on lockdown-related golfing, fishing and hiking escapades in a rare social setting.