The Public Service Electric and Gas Company of New Jersey (PSE&G) will begin accepting applications in less than a month, on February 25, for its Solar Loan program. While no major changes have occurred since the first solicitation late last year, data is now available on pricing from the first round of applications and awards.
The first solicitation of New Jersey’s PSE&G Solar Loan III program began last year and closed the period on November 12th, 2013. The program provides loans that make up significant portions of project construction costs (see an example here). The loans can be repaid through SRECs, with payment plans set at the closing of the loan. Cash can also be used to pay in case of low production. Once the loan has been paid in full, any SRECs produced thereafter belong to the owner of the system. The following capacities are available per each program segment:
There is much evidence pointing to a rosy future for residential solar. High retail utility rates provide a compelling reason for homeowners to go solar while residential installation costs continue to drop. Many of our partners claim that residential system development is more profitable than commercial development. Even solar developers that historically led the commercial and utility sectors are taking strides to enter the residential space.
In late 2013, SolarCity, successfully securitized cash flows from a portfolio of solar assets, accessing capital from the public markets via a $54 million bond offering. SolarCity accomplished the securitization milestone at a rate of 4.8%, and other solar companies may follow with perhaps even lower rates. Solar asset securitization deepens the pool of capital while cheapening the cost of capital. Meanwhile, SolarCity’s stock price has skyrocketed since its IPO a year ago, and new IPOs may be on the horizon for SunRun, Clean Power Finance, and Vivint Solar. Read the rest of this entry »
At Sol Systems, we realize that our work is a reflection of who we are as individuals, and our success is a direct result of all the different personalities, passions, and talents that your employees bring to the table. Our team has expanded significantly in the last few years, and we are proud to employ some of the brightest talent in the renewable energy industry. On this employee highlight we have Andrew Gilligan, Senior Associate at Sol Systems:
What is your current position at Sol Systems?
I am a Senior Associate and help to lead our Investor Advisory Group. As part of this team, I assist renewable energy investors across the United States to successfully deploy capital into solar projects.
How has Sol Systems changed since you first started at the firm?
Since I started with Sol Systems in early 2011, the firm has undergone a lot of changes. Back then, we were a small start-up company only offering SREC solutions. Today, we have evolved to become a financial services firm that can help with any part of the capital stock for projects in all relevant US solar markets.
The Washington Business Journal recently featured our financing partnership with Washington Gas Energy Systems, Inc. on three new solar projects in Hawaii, Maryland, and Sol Systems’ hometown, Washington, D.C. Sol Systems served as an investment advisor to Washington Gas Energy Systems for these projects, assisting in project origination, due diligence, negotiation, and deal structuring before ultimately guiding these projects to financial close.
Washington Gas Energy Systems will build, own and operate three more new solar projects, at the KIPP School in the District, Presbyterian Senior Living Services in Glen Arm, Md. and the Turtle Bay Resort in Oahu, Hawaii.
The projects will come online under 20-year power purchase agreements. Sol Systems is Washington Gas Energy Systems’ investment advisor, lining up third party financing.
The cost of the projects was not disclosed.
KIPP School will get a 227-kilowatt roof array. Presbyterian Senior Living Services will have a 1,320- kilowatt ground-mounted system, and Turtle Bay Resort will have a 402-kilowatt roof mounted system.
Read the full article from the Washington Business Journal here.
About Sol Systems
Sol Systems is a boutique financial services firm that offers investor clients direct access to the renewable energy asset class and provides developers with sophisticated project financing solutions. Founded in 2008, Sol Systems focuses on meeting the most critical needs of the industry, including SREC monetization, capital placement, tax equity, and New Market Tax Credits. To date, the company has arranged financing for thousands of projects and facilitated hundreds of millions in investment on behalf of Fortune 100 companies, private equity, family offices and individuals.
For more information, please visit www.solsystemscompany.com.
After being passed by the California Senate, the controversial net energy metering (NEM) and rate structure bill AB 327 was passed by the California Assembly earlier this month. The bill now awaits Governor Jerry Brown’s signature before it becomes law. In its current form, AB 327 aims to give the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) the ability to flatten tiered rate structures for residential consumers, and pass a tariff of no more than $10 on rate payers to finance fixed transmission and distribution costs faced by utilities. While initially a step back for distributed solar, in its final version, the bill also includes an extension of California’s NEM policy – slated to reach the end of its life at the end of 2014 at the latest – to July 1, 2017. The new NEM policy would allow CPUC to mandate utilities to acquire more than 33 percent of their power from renewable energy sources, as opposed to the current ceiling of “up to” 33 percent.
Initially, AB 327 was painted as the bill that could stymie solar growth in California. Solar advocates stood in opposition to the bill because flattened rate structures could negatively impact rooftop solar. Coupled with the end of NEM in 2014, flat rates could spell a major slowdown in the growth of residential solar. Utilities have argued for flattened rate structures, coupled with a monthly flat fee for all customers, saying that it would help meet growing energy needs, especially for those heavily burdened by energy costs. But after solar advocates and others included the extension of NEM in the bill, AB 327 has been transformed into the bill that could foster continued growth in the industry for years to come.
Washington Gas Energy Systems to Build, Own and Operate Three New Solar Projects Across the Nation through Financing Partnership with Sol Systems
Solar Arrays Will Power Turtle Bay Resort in Hawaii, the KIPP School in Washington, D.C., and Presbyterian Senior Living Services in Maryland.
McLean, Va. – Washington Gas Energy Systems, Inc. has announced that it has contracted to build, own and operate three new solar arrays through a financing partnership with Sol Systems. The photovoltaic systems will power the Turtle Bay Resort in Oahu, Hawaii, the KIPP School in Washington, D.C., and Presbyterian Senior Living Services in Glen Arm, Md. Washington Gas Energy Systems will own and operate the solar systems under 20-year power purchase agreements. Sol Systems acted as an investment advisor to Washington Gas Energy Systems for these projects, which bring the organizations access to clean, solar electricity through third-party financing.
“We commend the KIPP School, Turtle Bay Resort and Presbyterian Senior Living Services for their environmental stewardship and we are pleased to be partnering with Sol Systems,” said Sanjiv Mahan, Vice President of Business Development at Washington Gas Energy Systems. “This strategic project portfolio strengthens our existing footprint in key regions throughout Maryland and Washington, D.C., while expanding our portfolio into strong solar states like Hawaii, giving us a true nationwide presence.” Read the rest of this entry »
The Washington Business Journal recently highlighted the growth of our staff and the recent success of Sol Systems’ project finance business.
Sol Systems CEO Yuri Horwitz and Dan Yonkin, Director of Tax Equity, will be attending the upcoming Novogradac Financing Renewable Energy Conference in San Francisco. The event will be held April 24-25th and will include dozens of expert speakers and hundreds of renewable finance professionals. Yuri, our CEO and co-founder, will be featured on Wednesday the 24th in a panel titled “Searching for the Lowest Cost of Capital,” sharing his expertise on securing investment in the growing and complex green energy industry. Yuri will join executives from Deutsche Bank, Clean Power Finance, and other financing institutions to discuss the potential and viability of debt financing through asset-backed securities, master limited partnerships and even a federal production tax credit for solar energy.
Sol Systems offers investors a diverse range of opportunities to deploy capital in the renewable energy asset class. Our team originates project opportunities from our national network, conducts thorough due diligence of each projects, structures and negotiates complex tax transactions, and manages the asset post-closing to maximize each project’s cash and tax benefits.
Sol Systems CFO and co-founder, George Ashton, will be attending SOLAR 2013, an annual conference held by the American Solar Energy Society. This is the 42nd installment of the event, and will be held April 16-20 at the Baltimore Convention Center. George will be participating in a 90-minute panel discussion titled “Financing DG Projects,” where he will speak alongside Rich Deutschmann of Ameresco, Chris Lord of Capiron, and Steve Remen of GroSolar. The panel will be held on Wednesday, April 17th, from 1 PM until 2:30 PM and will focus on funding distributed generation installations.
Sol Systems Issues Call for Solar Projects – New Project Finance Platform Now Has $400 Million in Available Funding
Sol Systems Issues Call for Solar Projects – New Project Finance Platform Now Has $400 Million in Available Funding
Washington, DC: September 14, 2011 – Less than two weeks after launch, Sol Systems is proud to announce that its new solar finance platform, SolMarket, has increased from $350 million in available investment dollars to $400 million. In addition, reception by solar installers and developers across the country has been overwhelmingly positive. SolMarket’s network now includes over 180 companies and 300 users.
SolMarket is a financing platform that will catalyze investment in solar energy projects nationwide by transforming how solar projects are financed. SolMarket provides investors and developers with the tools they need to efficiently originate, evaluate, finance, and construct renewable energy projects. It provides a standardized origination platform, a document library, modeling software, and a standardized document suite. SolMarket will also offer developers group purchase discounts for solar modules and other equipment. There are no costs for developers to participate in SolMarket.
“We talk to hundreds of solar developers about prospective commercial and utility-scale projects, and unfortunately, many of these solar projects are never built due to an inability to efficiently locate financing,” said Yuri Horwitz, CEO of Sol Systems. “We have created SolMarket to help drive efficiencies into the solar market and connect investors and developers effectively. SolMarket will reduce the cost of financing transactions and enhance the tempo of solar project development.”
SolMarket is currently seeking projects ranging from 50 kW to multi-megawatts in size. Solar developers are encouraged to submit their projects prior to September 30th, when investors will get their first look at projects. Projects entered prior to this date increase their visibility and the likelihood of getting included in the investors’ 2011 portfolios.
Sol Systems invites interested solar developers to attend a SolMarket webinar, hosted every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday during the month of September at 2 pm EST. For more information, please email email@example.com or visit www.solmarket.com.
About Sol Systems
SolMarket is a wholly owned subsidiary of Sol Systems. Sol Systems is a Washington D.C. based solar finance firm, and the largest solar renewable energy credit (SREC) aggregator in the nation, with over 2,300 customers and over 20 MW of solar capacity under management. Through its SREC offerings, it has promoted the development of the solar market by providing long-term financing options for SRECs, facilitating over $100 million in solar development.
Ms. Sudha Gollapudi, Director of Strategic Partnerships
Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) markets are comprised almost entirely of solar photovoltaic generators. However, recent legal changes offer opportunities for solar thermal developers to participate in two of the country’s most lucrative programs.
As a background, a solar renewable energy credit is a tradable commodity like a carbon credit. However, unlike carbon credits, an SREC signifies the environmental attributes associated with 1 MWH of electricity, or its thermal equivalent, produced by a solar energy generator.
The value of an SREC is derived by a state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). A RPS is a state-specific statute dictating that certain percentage electricity must come from renewable energy generators. Thirty-one states within the US have RPS statutes on the books. Of these thirty-one states, seven require a percentage of the renewable electricity production come from solar energy technologies (i.e. solar carve-out). These seven states also define a Solar Alternative Compliance Penalty (SACP), or the penalty a regulated utility or energy supplier must pay if they fail to acquire the dictated number of SRECs to meet the RPS. For example, energy suppliers in MD and DC must surrender $400.00 and $500.00, respectively, for each SREC they fail to acquire to meet the solar carve out defined within the RPS. The SACP functions as the price ceiling for an SREC market.
Currently, only a very small number of solar thermal generators participate in these SREC markets, because until recently solar thermal generators did not meet the definitional requirements of a solar energy generator within RPS statutes. However this is changing.
The SREC landscape for solar thermal generators is now open for system owners in MD and DC. Effective January 1, 2012, the Maryland RPS will allow solar thermal generators to earn SRECs. To earn SRECs in Maryland the following conditions must be met: (1) the system must be installed on or after June 1, 2011, (2) if the system is residentially owned, the facility must meet the Solar Rating & Certification Corporation’s (SRCC) OG-300 standards, (3) if the facility is commercially owned, the components installed must meet the SRCC’s OG-100 standards and an OIML certified meter must be installed to measure generation at the facility, and (4) the facility must be located within Maryland. To participate in the DC SREC market, (1) residentially owned systems must meet the SRCC OG-300 standards, (2) commercially owned systems must utilize components that meet the SRCC’s OG-100 standards and have an OIML meter installed to measure generation, and (3) pending new legislation, the facility must be located within the District.
In light of these recent legal changes, solar thermal developers can now participate in two lucrative SREC markets. In 2015 alone, the Maryland SREC market alone will have a ceiling value of over $100 million. Or, put another way, more than 195 MW-eq. of new compliance appetite is legislated in DC and MD over the next 3 years. To learn more about SREC options available to you, please visit www.solsystemscompany.com. As the country’s oldest and largest SREC aggregator, we can craft the solution that is right for you.
Sol Systems’ valued customer, Phil Hostetter, recently had an interesting version of show-and-tell at his home in Sterling, Virginia, with twelve 4th and 5th graders from Guilford Elementary School. Phil, who has a 4.05 kW solar photovoltaic (PV) system, gave a tour of his eco-friendly home, which also has a hybrid trombe wall and a solar hot water system . Phil and his wife Stephanie became interested in solar energy during the 1980’s and decided to build a passive solar home, with the idea that it would go solar electric as soon as possible. Although the house was completed in 1986, their initial plans to add PV panels to their home were delayed until 2009. The financial help from tax credits and the current SREC benefits he receives greatly contributed to the execution of the project.
When Phil heard about the environmental club at nearby Guilford Elementary School, he conceived the idea of the show-and-tell as a way to share his enthusiasm for solar and other green technologies and to inspire young students to take an interest in environment issues. The environmental club members had been learning about sustainable living for quite some time. Phil briefly described the process of the system to them but remarks, “The kids definitely knew a lot. They knew how it worked and could recognize many features of the system.” The club practices composting and cultivates a vegetable garden at the school. (Phil and Stephanie donated vegetable and flower seedlings from their greenhouse.) Club members also sell some of the harvest to raise money for the school and are thinking of doing some sort of solar installation in the near future.
Phil received numerous thank you notes and illustrations of his house. “We got a great response from the tour. I’m pleased they took the time to write thank you notes.” We at Sol Systems enjoyed the letters and wanted to share with our other customers. It is without a doubt important to educate the youth of the importance of sustainable living with a limited number of resources in the world. We hope this article and the letters posted below inspire our other customers to host similar events for local school children. Thank you, Phil, for sharing your story, and for continuing to spread the knowledge!
Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) markets can be volatile, which can create significant concerns for a financier interested in investing in a commercial solar photovoltaic project. Exposure to price volatility can undermine the economics of solar projects, or simply prevent a project from ever taking off. As state rebate programs are depleted, and SREC values become even more critical to the financing of commercial-scale solar plants, minimizing SREC price volatility will be essential to success. For these reasons, more sophisticated SREC financing solutions will be required for commercial projects to address and mitigate price risk.
When discussing commercial scale solar projects, generally we are referring to projects that are larger than residential solar systems, but that are not large enough to negotiate an SREC contract directly with a regulated energy supplier or utility. Using this definition of commercial project, a commercial project can range anywhere between 20 KW to 2 MW, and produce approximately 24 to 2,400 SRECs annually.
In robust SREC markets, particularly the ones where state rebates and incentives are draining quickly (i.e. Ohio, New Jersey, DC), the value derived from SRECs may constitute 30 to 40% of the project’s returns over the first five years of operation. So, for example, a project in Pennsylvania may be a good investment if SREC values are stable during the first five years of the system’s production, but may be a very poor investment if SREC values drop by 20%, reducing the total yield on the investment of roughly 8%. In short, SREC price volatility can turn a relatively profitable investment into a wash for the investors backing the project.
The addition of new solar capacity, legislative changes to state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), and other SREC market developments can all affect SREC values. This uncertainty poses a risk to the security of a solar investment, and addressing this risk will be essential for project developers.
Sol Systems makes it possible for project developers and system owners to address this risk by providing various SREC payment structures. For commercial projects, Sol Systems can partition portions of the SREC stream into forward contracts and/or brokerage arrangements. The forward contracts are available in 3 and 5 year terms. Sol Systems can also offer an upfront payment that pre-pays for the future rights to SREC generation. The upfront payment securitizes the SREC stream, providing the greatest insulation against SREC price volatility and regulatory risk. These options allow solar investors to hedge their exposure to SREC price volatility. Depending on the investor’s risk appetite, Sol Systems can provide SREC services that provide the right level of risk and reward to ensure that a project gets off the ground and pays investors the returns they expect.
The United States House of Representatives extended the investment tax credits grant program (ITC Grant Program) today, a huge victory for the solar industry. The ITC Grant Program provides grants in the amount of thirty percent of a project’s costs, and is one of the single most important pieces of legislation for commercial solar development currently. The ITC Grant is often combined with Sol Systems’ Sol Up-Front (which provides up-front financing based on SREC production) to help pay down much of the costs of a system within 90 days of installation.
The program was created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Section 1603) to provide commercial solar installations with a cash grant in lieu of the 30 percent solar investment tax credit (ITC). The ITC actually went into law in 2008, but the economic conditions created by the global recession, and the lack of tax appetite on the part of many institutional investors, meant that few institutional investors could utilize the ITC. The 1603 Program allows the Treasury to effectively purchase the tax credit from solar developers through the 30% grant.
So far, the ITC Grant has helped more than 1,100 solar projects in 42 states and has supported $18 billion in investment. The program has been critical in allowing the solar industry to grow by over 100 percent in 2010, create enough new solar capacity to power 200,000 homes and provide work to more than 93,000 Americans.
Standard Solar, Inc., a leader in the full-service development, installation and financing of solar electric systems for commercial, government and residential customers, today announced a partnership with Sol Systems, the nation’s largest solar renewable energy credit (SREC) aggregator. The partnership will help make alternative energy solutions more affordable for Standard Solar customers.
“This partnership will go a long way for our current and future customers,” said Standard Solar President Scott Wiater. “Not only will it help businesses and homeowners significantly cut costs of their solar energy systems, but it will help those considering solar energy to realize that alternative energy is an affordable solution.”
Solar renewable energy credits are a critical component to making solar energy an affordable option for homeowners and businesses, and can compose up to 30 percent of a solar energy system’s payback. Through Standard Solar’s partnership with Sol Systems, customers will have access to competitive SREC pricing and the resources to secure the maximum benefit from their SRECs.
Through one SREC program, Sol Upfront, customers can receive immediate financing for their systems. Sol Systems will purchase all estimated SREC production for a 10-year period, providing customers with a one-time, lump-sum payment that can be used to pay off installation costs. The Sol Annuity SREC option allows customers to lock in the current SREC rate and receive payments for each full SREC produced. This gives customers reliable, quarterly payments as solar energy is generated.
“We are excited to work with Standard Solar, an installer with one of the best reputations in the Mid-Atlantic region,” said Sol Systems CEO Yuri Horwitz. “The partnership will extend our solar financing services to hundreds of homeowners and businesses and give them easy, economical ways to invest in solar.”
Standard Solar is also participating in Sol Lease, which allows Washington DC homeowners, schools, churches, businesses and non-profits to secure solar energy with no up-front costs. By paying a fixed, monthly payment, these groups can enjoy the savings and benefits of solar energy produced from a solar energy system for a 10-year contract term.
About Standard Solar
Standard Solar, Inc. is a leader in the full-service development, construction, integration, financing and installation of solar electric systems. Dedicated to making solar solutions more accessible to consumers, businesses, institutions and governments, the company is leading the way to energy independence. Committed to offering responsible and energy cost-saving solar solutions that conform to the highest standards, Standard Solar is one of the most trusted and respected solar companies. Since 2004, Standard Solar has been the partner of choice to make solar energy financially accessible, helping customers through financing options, including Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) and navigating expanded federal and state and local tax credits. The company’s Standard Energy Solutions (SES) division provides energy auditing and retrofitting services for energy improvement projects. Ranked the 73rd Fastest Growing Private Company in America in 2010 by Inc. magazine, and the highest-ranking renewable energy company on the list, Standard Solar is headquartered in Rockville, MD. For more information, please visit www.standardsolar.com.
About Sol Systems
Sol Systems is a Washington D.C. based solar energy finance and development firm that was built on the principle that solar energy should be an economically viable energy solution. Sol Systems enables solar developers, homeowners, and businesses to fully realize the value of their solar energy systems by providing them with a range of options for selling their SRECs. To date, Sol Systems has helped over 1,300 customers with projects ranging from 1 kW to over 1 MW realize the value of their SRECs. Sol Systems currently operates in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia. For more information, please visit www.solsystemscompany.com.
The mid-Atlantic region has witnessed a rapid growth in solar installations over the past few years. While the large multi-megawatt commercial projects make front-page news, it is interesting to note that there is also vibrant growth in mid-size commercial projects, ranging from 50kW-500 kW. Today, the total capacity of solar installed in the PJM region (solar projects in the mid-Atlantic region) is 262 MW, of which 83 MW comes from systems in the 50 kW-500 kW range. Moreover, the mid-size commercial project segment has shown steady growth, adding approximately 26 MW each year since 2009.
Large solar projects face significant financing hurdles because millions of dollars of capital are required, but these projects also fetch the attention of large banks, energy suppliers and tax equity investors. Mid-size commercial projects face the daunting challenge of financing their projects with less visibility, but they can be successful if they make use of all the available incentives and financing tools.
Many mid-size commercial developers and installers can help the customer through the process for applying to federal and state grants; however, monetizing the Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) is often more difficult. SREC markets are complex for two main reasons. First, SREC markets differ across various states depending on the State’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) and Solar Alternative Compliance Payment (SACP), the fee paid by energy suppliers for non-compliance of RPS requirements. Second, SREC markets have been known to be fairly volatile due to legislation changes and variations in supply and demand. These challenges can be mitigated by finding a stable partner with long-term SREC contracts who can help system owners navigate the legislation, and provide security of cash flow payments which allow system owners to accurately determine their payback period.
Investing in a mid-size commercial solar project is a sizeable investment for a small business owner or homeowner, thereby making it imperative to ask some difficult questions to the SREC aggregator or financier. The most important question to ask the SREC aggregator is: “Are your customer contracts backed up with energy supplier contracts?” If an SREC aggregator has long term contracts with energy suppliers, then the SREC firm has foresight into future SREC prices and can offer a fair, guaranteed rate. On the contrary, if an SREC aggregator is speculating on price and hoping to sell the SRECs in the spot market at a future date without any security of a long term agreement, their customer is exposed to a lot more SREC market risk. System owners should also be aware of the other factors that shape the SREC markets, like regulatory changes, rapid adoption of solar, and market shifts due to large-scale solar projects.
Being the oldest and largest SREC aggregator in the country, Sol Systems has matched a majority of its long-term SREC contracts with its energy supplier contracts, thereby providing the market stability and flexibility that mid-size commercial customers seek. Today, Sol Systems works with over 200 developers and installers in financing mid-size commercial solar projects. More information can be found at www.solsystemscompany.com.
When speaking with homeowners who have recently invested in solar energy, and who are considering how to manage the sale of their Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs), a common question is, “how will my solar electricity be monitored and how do I earn SRECs?”
This simple question cuts right to some of the most complex and nuanced underpinnings of how SREC markets work and begs answers to questions like:
• How is solar electricity production monitored?
• How is this production reported to a solar Attributes Tracking Program?
• How is the reported generation verified as accurate?
These questions illustrate the complexity of SREC markets — particularly because the answers to these questions vary by state. It’s understandable that homeowners can be intimidated by the solar industry and SREC markets; however, navigating these complexities is possible.
Each state determines its own regulations for monitoring solar electricity generation for SREC production. These regulations may require an inverter, a solar meter, or a remote monitoring system. Depending on the system state, and the size of the system, vastly different reporting technologies are required.
Reporting provisions refer to how the solar monitoring data is transmitted to an Attributes Tracking System (such as PJM’s Generation Attributes Tracking System “GATS”) for verification and ultimately SREC production. Solar reporting provisions are also determined on a state by state basis. For example, in Massachusetts all monitoring data must be reported to the Massachusetts Production Tracking Systems (administered by the MA Clean Energy Center). For systems above 10 KW , the monitoring data must also be reported electronically though a remote monitoring system, such as Locus Energy. However, each state differs on these provisions as well.
Verification of reported monitoring data is the final step of the compliance cycle for SREC production, and is conducted by the Attributes Tracking System. The only exception to this rule is Massachusetts, in which the Production Tracking System verifies the reporting data and then transmits it to NEPOOL GIS on the system owner’s behalf. For all solar energy systems registered with PJM GATS, GATS verifies reporting data by comparing the data with its own internal models. If and when GATS determines the reported generation falls within boundaries of the projected modeled generation, GATS then awards the system owner’s account SREC value. In the event that the reported data is not within the bounds of the projected modeled generation, GATS follows up to verify the accuracy of the reported data. In the future, some states will be implementing independent verification steps to ensure that the reported data is accurate, and markets are operating efficiently.
Certainly, it can be challenging to understand and abide by the requirements of SREC monitoring, reporting, and verification; however, the benefit of working with an aggregator like Sol Systems is that we navigate these complexities on behalf of our customers. We understand these provisions, abide by them, and work with regulators on a daily basis. This means our customers can rest assured that they receive all the credit, and solar credits, for their solar electricity production.
California continues to prove its leadership in advancing the solar industry by instituting a new HomeBuyer Solar Option and Solar Offset Program to promote distributed solar development. The HomeBuyer Solar Option requires residential real estate developers to offer a solar photovoltaic energy system option to all new home buyers. Developers who do not participate in the HomeBuyer Solar option will be required to set up a solar offset system in which they generate an equivalent amount of solar electricity on another project.
This program is revolutionary because it specifically incentivizes the development of “distributed generation” electricity. Distributed generation, unlike centralized generation from large fossil-fuel power plants and renewable energy farms, reduces the amount of energy lost during electricity transmission and helps Independent System Operators (ISOs) mitigate congestion in the transmission lines.
States such as New Jersey, District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland and Delaware have set up aggressive Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), which promote the development of solar energy and create markets for Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs). However, if these states wish to incentivize the promotion of distributed solar generation, it is important that they follow California’s lead in creating specific incentives for residential solar development.
If the 375,000 new homes sold across the U.S.* were equipped with a 5kW solar photovoltaic system, an additional 2,250 MWh would be generated each year. This would be sufficient to meet their energy demand for approximately six months.
*2009 Census- new home sales in U.S.
**Energy Information Administration- Table 5 Average Monthly Bill by Census Division, and State
This last September, the U.S. Senate introduced the Renewable Electricity Promotion Act of 2010, Senate Bill 3813, a stand-alone Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) that will require sellers of electricity to retail customers to obtain certain percentages of their electric supply from renewable energy resources. If S. 3813 looks familiar, it should. The legislation is what remains of comprehensive climate change legislation that was introduced in the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009 S.1462. This is therefore perhaps the last chance for any comprehensive federal approach to climate change or renewable energy prior to the next election.
So what does it mean for solar energy? In sum, it doesn’t hurt solar, but its immediate effects may not help much either. The proposed alternative compliance payment (ACP), which is the penalty energy suppliers must pay if they do not comply with their requirements is set low, especially when compared to current state RES programs such as New Jersey or D.C that have developed a foundation for a strong solar market. In addition, the portfolio of qualifying technologies may be too inclusive (by including numerous technologies the impact on any one technology is limited.
However, the legislation provides the framework, a seed of sorts, for the continued implementation and development of RES legislation nationwide. As RES markets develop nationwide, the solar industry can begin the task of adjusting to a more sustainable regulatory mechanism that is likely to help accelerate the implementation of solar technology (and others) well into the next decade. Our analysis is below.
What Does a Federal RES Do?
The federal Renewable Electricity Standard requires that a certain percentage of the electricity purchased in the country come from renewable energy resources. The purpose of an RES is to set up a competitive market in which utilities either (1) directly produce a specific amount of renewable energy based on their total load or (2) effectively purchase this renewable energy from others producing it or (3) pay a penalty. Most utilities will choose some combination of all three. In some state markets, an RES is called a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) or alternative energy portfolio standard (AEPS).
If utilities opt to go with the second strategy listed above, they usually do not purchase the energy from renewable energy resources, they simply purchase title to the “credit” associated with the renewable energy, termed a renewable energy credit (REC). Since energy can be measured in megawatt-hours (MWh), one REC represents the green attributes associated with one MWh of production from a renewable energy resource. Each time a homeowner or business produces one MWh from its solar system, it can sell the REC associated with this MWh in a competitive market. Technologies compete to produce RECs and sell them, and as these technologies scale, the supply of RECs increases, and the costs of these RECs decreases. The market is designed to drive down the costs of compliance and catalyze alternative energy technologies to scale.
CURRENT RES OVERVIEW
The RES targets are less than the twenty to twenty-five percent recommended by most industry groups and President Obama himself this last year. The current RES requirements are below:
The Alternative Compliance Payment
The Alternative Compliance Payment, which is the fee that electric utilities must pay in lieu of actually purchasing or producing the renewable energy credits required by the RES, is $21, adjusted for inflation. This means that for every MWH of electricity that the utility fails to supply from renewable energy, it must pay a fine of $21. The ACP effectively sets the ceiling on the value of renewable energy credits, with the caveat that there are multipliers (described below) that make some RECs more valuable than others.
Under the current RES, those resources include solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, landfill gas, qualified hydropower, marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy, incremental geothermal, coal-mined methane, qualified waste-to-energy, and potentially other technologies.
In order to incentivize certain technologies, states (and in this case the federal government) often provide multipliers for RECs from specific technologies or locations. Under the federal RES, utilities will receive double credit for RECs produced by renewable energy systems located on Indian land (to incentivize the development of renewable energy on Indian land) and triple credit for small renewable distributed generation less than 1 MW. Although not stated, it is likely that the maximum ceiling on energy efficiency credits will conversely reduce the value of RECs produced from energy efficiency upgrades.
The national RES will not preempt current state RES or RPS standards. Instead, the RES is meant to set a floor for states without current RES or RPS legislation to set up trading regimes and complement preexisting state legislation. The RES is a bit like the federal Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act in this respect, both of which provide states with a blueprint which they can either accept in whole, or mimic with state-specific standards that are as strict or less strict. This is incredibly important for those states that have more favorable solar requirements than the federal RES.
It is unclear at this point whether a national market will develop because of the legislation. Currently, the legislation provides for the delegation of responsibilities to either a national trading mechanism or a more regional mechanism. States will have to figure out whether they want their REC markets to be regional, like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), or isolated, like Delaware, New Jersey, Massachusetts and others.
The value of solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) is typically a function of supply and demand . It is therefore unclear what the values of SRECs will be since this supply and demand will differ from state to state. Taken by itself, the legislation will not push SREC prices very high since the ACP is $21, with a potential multiplier of three ($63). However, current RPS states will likely retain their markets, and states without an RPS may develop more aggressive RPS legislation in light of the national RES.
1. The effective solar alternative compliance payment (SACP) is $63 per MWH for distributed solar energy systems (those below 1 MW in nameplate capacity). This is low enough that it is not likely to create a significant market for solar renewable energy credits (since the ACP provides a ceiling on the value of SRECs). This legislation is therefore unlikely to single-handedly develop robust markets for solar. However, as discussed below, the RES may provide the necessary legislative framework for the creation of such a market.
2. The list of qualifying “renewable energy resources” includes technologies that will be much less expensive to implement initially, and will likely flood REC markets. Solar energy, for example, is not likely to be able to compete with biomass or methane from mining.
3. Utilities can purchase energy efficiency credits. These credits are also likely to be much less valuable than SRECs, and may also flood the market – although they are limited to 26.67 percent of their overall required needs.
Setting up a national RES begins to set minimum requirements, build the framework for the introduction of renewable energy legislation that many states currently do not have in an organized fashion, and develop a sustainable means by which to incentivize renewable energy. RES legislation is especially important for new technologies that may have higher up-front costs (like solar) because requirements can be structured around these costs. Although the standards may not be perfectly structured to assist solar energy at this time, most RES legislation is tweaked over time to better suite solar energy.
The proposed federal RES is a good beginning, and provides a decent foundation for future legislation. Although it may not be perfect for solar initially, it forces legislators to address the important issue of alternative energy development, and provides them with a blueprint with which to do so. Our guess is that the requirements, and the ACP, will likely increase on a state-by-state basis. In the meantime, renewable energy is able to put itself on the map, and we’ve taken the first step of many in diversifying our energy infrastructure and moving towards a more sustainable future.
An article recently posted in the Novogradac and Company Journal of Tax Credits discusses the implications of securing financing for solar energy developments utilizing long-term SREC contracts (as opposed to state rebate and grant money). We recommend reading the full article, but we wanted to provide a quick analysis of its central points, and follow up on the central strength of long-term SREC financing that this article misses.
The article observes that regional and state solar grant and rebate programs are being cut back as cash strapped governments find ways to reduce costs. In replacement of the grant and rebate programs, states (like Massachusetts) are instituting performance-based incentive structures, also known as Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) markets. The subsidy for solar development is tied to performance, the value of the subsidy is determined by market and regulatory forces, and the costs of funding the subsidy are distributed to regulated energy suppliers and their customers.
The article concludes that securing long-term contracts for the sale of SRECs provides a solar energy developer with better leverage to secure financing for his or her project because the SREC contract provides a stable revenue stream for the financier. We agree in full. The article also notes, “prices offered in contracts could likely be either the floor price or something perceived as substantially below market”. While this point may appeal to those bullish on the future of SREC markets; we think this article misses a fundamental purpose of SREC markets.
The intended goal of SREC markets and Renewable Portfolio Standards is it to stimulate economies of scale for solar development, driving down manufacturing and installation costs thereby pushing solar energy markets towards grid parity (i.e. making solar electricity competitive with fossil fuel generated electricity). As solar development costs continue to decrease and the number of solar energy projects increases, the supply of SRECs on the market can quickly outpace the demand created by SREC Alternative Compliance Payments which would cause the floor price of SRECs to fall. For example, in Massachusetts the floor price is currently determined by the Clearinghouse Auction price of $285.00. In the event an energy supplier could broker with project owners to secure SRECs at a value below $285.00, the Clearinghouse Auction would freeze up and the market would find a new bottom.
We think one of the reasons investors often favor long-term SREC contracts instead of spot market transactions is precisely because there is certainty about the SREC floor price. Aggregators like Sol Systems, who manage a portfolio of SRECs through long-term contracts with energy suppliers, provide both a stable cash flow for the project developer as well as security against the intended consequence of a successful SREC market and Renewable Portfolio Standard. And, herein lies the paradox: a successful and vibrant SREC market creates exponential solar development, which drives down SREC values and leads to a mature solar market that does not require an SREC market.
Earlier this week, we came across a great resource we think our installer partners could use to expand and grow their businesses. It’s called the ‘Solar Licensing Database’, and it was created by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC).
The Solar Licensing Database inventories, on a state by state basis, the licensing requirements to become a solar thermal and photovoltaic installer for each state. This Database also provides useful links to the relevant state authorities who facilitate the licensing.
We think the Database could provide some valuable insights to installers who are considering branching out into new markets.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently noted that solar electricity could represent up to 20% to 25% of total global electricity production by 2050 based on their Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Roadmap and Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) Roadmap, which are meant to assist governments, industry and financial partners accelerate energy technology development and uptake. The report concluded that PV technology will become competitive globally by 2030 on the utility-scale in some of the areas with the best insolation given the right climatic factors. Further, the report indicates that PV has the potential to provide more than eleven percent of all electricity worldwide.
This analysis is good news for those of us in the solar energy space; however, the stated assumption is that governments, like the United States, will implement more concerted policies to facilitate solar energy. Even as some argue that solar energy will soon pass cost parity with nuclear energy, solar energy will likely remain at a competitive disadvantage to traditional fossil fuels unless governments implement policies that recognize the numerous positive externalities of solar energy.
One may wonder: is this political support likely in a country that has failed to pass a comprehensive energy bill? Are the key political drivers that change how our government engages and incentivizes the development of solar and other renewables changing? Will they in the future?
Answer: Almost certainly so. The political and economic interests that have prevented a significant comprehensive approach to solar energy and other renewable energies are changing, and will continue to change dramatically.
Perhaps the single largest driver for political change is the economic change that has taken place in this country in the last two decades. As detailed in a fascinating article in the Washington Post by David Callahan, the United States has moved from a country where thirty-seven percent (37%) of the wealth for the country’s top 400 individuals came from oil and manufacturing in 1982 to merely seventeen percent (17%) in 2006. An overwhelming number of the richest individuals (and the largest political contributors) now represent industries such as finance and technology.
The political implications of these changes are enormous. Currently, according to Open Secrets, an estimated 17.4 percent of all state and national campaign dollars come from the top 100 donors, a hugely disproportionate share. As the political clout of traditional energy wanes, the clout of other industries has grown.
As Callahan points out, although John McCain far outraised Obama among employees of energy and natural resources companies in 2008, pulling in $4 million from this group, Obama simply went elsewhere, and raised $25.5 million from the finance and technology sector. Similarly, he oil and gas industry has been a traditional source of GOP cash and was consistently among the top 10 sources of money for federal candidates for decades, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2008, it moved down to 16th. The entire energy and natural resources sector gave $77 million in campaign donations while lawyers gave $234 million, more than three times as much.
Moreover, many of the individuals in the financial and technology sector are committed to renewable energy. Last year, for example, George Soros pledged to make $1 billion in renewable-energy investments and other billionaires, including Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, John Doerr and Vinod Khosla, are also investing in the sector. Companies are doing the same. Google recently became an independent power producer with the creation of its affiliate, Google Energy LLC, so that it could purchase renewable energy for its large data centers and also purchase energy futures to hedge against an increase in electricity prices.
To make things more interestingly, Google’s most recent purchase of wind energy was from NextEra Energy Resources. NextEra is none other than large utility Florida Power and Light, which changed its name in January of 2009 to better market its commitment to renewable energy. Other utilities, including Duke, First Energy, Pepco Holdings Inc. and others have all made similar commitments to developing renewable energy resources either through direct development, or by helping to finance other projects. Exelon Energy, for example, recently developed a 10 MW solar project called City Solar that will provide energy to over a thousand homes.
In sum, the economic constituency is shifting towards solar energy and other renewables, and so too will the political constituency. The new economy is producing a powerful group of companies and individuals that are committed to fundamentally changing the politics and economics of renewable energy; politicians, both Republicans and Democrats alike, will not be able to ignore this constituency.
The result is an emerging political consensus, among both Democrats and Republicans, traditional energy businesses and financial ones, that renewable energy resources like solar must be supported. This may be through a carbon cap and trade legislation, but more likely the proliferation of solar energy systems will occur through a more incremental approach such as a national renewable portfolio standard and economic incentives like solar renewable energy credits (SRECs). In either case, renewable energy will emerge in the next five years as a non-political issue, and our guess is that the required market incentives to ensure the success of solar energy and other technologies will be implemented.