18 Jan 2018
January 18, 2018

January Industry News

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Regulatory News

New Jersey Senate Passes Bill 2276 to Raise Solar Energy Targets

The New Jersey Senate passed a bill on January 8th, 2018 as a short term fix to avoid the collapse of the solar market once the current goal is hit later this year. It is still unknown as to whether or not Gov. Chris Christie will sign the bill and his term expires next week.

FERC Rejects Energy Secretary’s Plan to Bail Out Coal and Nuclear Industries

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued an order officially ending Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s plan to bail out both the coal & nuclear industry, citing the DOE didn’t provide evidence that the existing market rules are “unjust and unreasonable”. The proposed plan helped subsidize the stored fuel costs required to operate coal & nuclear plants.  FERC’s order was praised by both environmental groups & energy advocates.

Technology News

Panasonic Begins to Ramp Up Solar Cell Manufacturing at Tesla Gigafactory 2

Back in 2016, Tesla and Panasonic developed a partnership to produce and distribute high-efficiency Panasonic cells & modules. After a year of delays and trial runs, the Gigafactory 2 is officially producing both cells & panels. A portion of the manufactured panels are dedicated to the Tesla’s much hyped solar-roof. Systems are starting to be installed on roofs of non-Tesla employees.

DOE invests $12 Million in 8 projects with goals to improve solar forecasting.

These projects will seek to improve solar forecasting, building upon similar projects that were awarded funds in 2012. Expanding the solar forecasting from 24 to 48 hours in advance will help grid operators manage day-ahead planning. An example of one of the awarded projects is IBM’s Watt-Sun Program.

Schneider Electric SE & Cybersecurity Firm FireEye Confirmed Successful Hack of Industrial Control Systems at an Unnamed Facility

Cybersecurity has become an increased focal point for the electric industry in 2018 & beyond. With more and more cyber-attack attempts occurring every year, industry leaders are being challenged to address such a critical issue. Consulting Firm Accenture recently found that more than 75% of utility executives in North America believe a cyber-attack is probable in as soon as five years.

15 Dec 2017
December 15, 2017

18 Solar Wishes for the Holidays

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‘Tis the season to…come up with a 2018 solar wish list? Yes, that’s precisely what the team at SCF compiled. Some of these wishes are realistic, others are not…like that 120 crayon Crayola pack that never made its way under the tree. Check out SCF’s #SolarWishList, and please feel free to add to the list, by utilizing the comment section.

Happy Holidays!

1) Preserve the ITC & throw in an extension, better yet, extend it indefinitely!

2) Minimal tariffs & quotas on cell & module imports (Section 201 Trade Case)

3) Blockchain Investment & development of additional use cases

4) More Solar-Inspired Art & Architecture

5) InterSolar & SPI to be in a beautiful city near me

6) Increased Solar + Storage Deployment (Read more on storage bankability here)

7) Less Solar Degradation (Loss in production due to panel aging) – SunPower’s most recent degradation rates are testing at 0.25%/annually (Source here).

8) To help reverse Climate Change

9) Cheaper Panels and more efficient ways to install panels

10) Bankability of SRECs & additional rebate programs

11) Improved Community Solar Asset Management & Development of Solar for Low-Income Housing

12) More solar jobs & diversity in the solar industry

13) Reconstruction & Renovation of Puerto Rican Grid to include DERs

14) Significantly more institutional capital in the marketplace therefore lowering the cost of capital

15) Expansion into new markets: States like Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire & others are positioning themselves to make significant progress in solar development in the next couple years.

16) Cooperation & teamwork from all stakeholders continuing to promote a sustainable cause

17) 365 days of sunshine a year, throw in some rain and snow when/where needed

18) Tax reform that incentivizes more tax equity in the market.

12 Dec 2017
December 12, 2017

Employee Spotlight: Jonathan Worthley

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What are 3 words to describe SCF?
Solar financing specialists.

What do you like most about SCF?
I enjoy being part of a small, knowledgeable team, that get’s to work on very interesting solar projects, from schools and churches, to home owners associations, municipalities and general commercial Jonathan Worthleycustomers.

What is your role at SCF?
I head up the project operations team, as their Project Operations Manager (please don’t call me the POM 🙂 that manages the due diligence, development and construction process on all of our acquisitions and developments. Our team prepares financial models, updates contracts, reviews various technical documents and manages schedules to ensure that projects meet our requirements.

What career advice would you give for people trying to enter the solar field?
Leverage your existing skills and experience as there are a great variety of roles in the solar industry. Whether it be in manufacturing, sales, engineering, construction, science, real estate, tech, insurance, finance, risk, or law, there are numerous people with different specialties that are involved in a project. Be well read on various topics, complete short courses (NABCEP and Heatspring offer affordable courses) and attend various networking events, such as those for young professionals and women in solar (organised/attended by our very own Maggie Parkhurst!).

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
Being able to apply my skills in different countries and industries.

What is the best book you’ve read?
I tend to read mostly non-fiction and historical fiction (sad, I know), but I found Richard Muller’s Energy for Future Presidents and Physics for Future Presidents interesting and helpful reads for anyone entering the renewable energy industry.

What do you like to do in your free time?
Stay outdoors and active, catch a game of footy (Aussie rules football) and spend time with family and friends.

What are your hopes for the solar industry?
Given solar is now cost competitive with traditional energy, I think the future is very bright. I don’t believe the phase out of the ITC will be too much of a hindrance as we will likely see more competitive and efficient financing markets. China and the corporate sector’s commitment to securing renewable energy sources, not only for environmental reasons but also for financial ones, is also a good sign. So I hope and believe it will continue to grow.

What is the best concert you’ve ever attended?
Being Australian, I’ve only ever been to Men at Work and ACDC concerts, and they’re really hard to split.

What has been your favorite city you’ve ever lived in and why?
I really enjoyed Hong Kong. It has a good mix of professional, travel and social opportunities. The city itself has a lot of bars and restaurants, but there is also a lot of hiking trails and water activities on its doorstep. It’s also an excellent base from which to travel to any place in Asia, and it’s really easy to meet people and make friends.

If you could only drink one beer for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Fosters

Shiraz Madan, CEO, Sustainable Capital Finance

Shiraz began his professional career working for LaSalle Bank/ ABM AMRO in the Chicago Financial District. He served as a credit analyst and commercial banker for middle market to large corporate clients. Shiraz left the banking world and became a shareholder and Vice President at SEO Design Solutions (SDS); a startup specializing in search engine optimization and internet marketing, located on the “Magnificent Mile” in Chicago. Shiraz was responsible for business development and managing access to the capital markets, working with SDS’ investor base. Shiraz was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer where he successfully grew the company’s profits..

Shiraz decided to rejoin the financial and startup worlds and founded SCF. With experience in project finance and access to the capital markets, Shiraz partnered with Dan Holloway and DV Patel to form the necessary foundation for launching a successful solar finance company.

As the CEO, Shiraz currently serves as the primary communicator, decision maker, leader, and manager.
Shiraz holds a BA in Business Management from Millikin University.

Stratton Report: Please briefly describe how Sustainable Capital Finance (SCF) is playing in the behind-the-meter C&I market.

Shiraz Madan: SCF is a third party financier of commercial and industrial, municipal, school and non-profit projects. We work with EPCs who are looking for a PPA provider to finance their solar projects and we work with developers who are looking for a takeout partner to acquire solar projects either during development or construction. We’re unique in our approach to C&I in that we’re able to offer solutions for projects as small as a 100kW and we’re very comfortable with unrated offtakers. With these two segments being significantly underserved, we’ve been committed to being the solution for our partners for these segments. The way we deliver our third-party financing service to our partners is through our proprietary cloud-based software called the SCF Suite. The Suite allows our partners to price projects in real time, upload project-level data in a centralized place, upload all project files such as drawings, agreements, permits, financial statements, etc. It allows our partners to auto-populate counterparty agreements such as term sheets, PPAs, and EPC agreements. Overall, it’s proven to be a comprehensive tool that streamlines the origination, development, financing, and construction process for our partners and internally for SCF and it has allowed us to bring capital to the small C&I sector.

SR: For this market, what business models and strategies are you seeing market players deploying now and what is the rationale for it?

SM: The C&I market has seen a great increase in new business models and strategies recently. On the distributed side, we’re seeing software play a huge role in creating efficiencies for developers and installers. From sales and design software like Aurora and HelioScope to Energy Tool Base for rate schedule access and cost avoidance calculation to GELI and Homer on the storage side. The use of these platforms, and our very own SCF Suite, has lowered the barrier to entry for installers and developers and has paved the way for scalability. With regards to community solar, we continue to see an increased presence in the market. With regulatory support, we’ll likely see additional states adopt the community solar approach which will include a blend of C&I and residential customer subscriptions. On the finance side, new capital has entered the solar C&I sector from institutional investors looking for returns that are unattainable in utility or residential. This has resulted in smaller developers having access to development capital and thereby have the ability to originate and develop portfolios of projects for takeout partners like ourselves.


SR: How do you see the market landscape shaping up in the future— a consolidation of players? Still fragmented with lots of smaller, local players? A market dominated by utilities with existing customer relations? Something else?

SM: With the residential market being so saturated, opportunities have opened up for smaller EPCs and developers to enter this small commercial sector. As mentioned previously, with enough scale, these parties can obtain development capital and continue to build portfolios for takeout partners. We really enjoy working with partners that are new to C&I as it’s presumably a part of their growth process and it’s exciting to grow with them. Having said that, with so many smaller developers entering the fray and new capital in the mix, it is and continues to be a very fragmented marketplace and I think we will see strategic acquisition from larger solar entities and from investors that are looking to own platforms and assets as opposed to simply buying assets. With regards to utilities dominating the market, since most utilities are not fully tax efficient, I don’t think we’ll see them dominate the market place until the ITC steps down and is marginalized or eliminated. They have an inherent low cost of capital which is definitely advantageous so we’ll continue to see them participating and I think we’ll see that participation growth in C&I as well.

SR: How is the U.S. 201 solar trade case currently impacting the market?

SM: We’ve seen two major current impacts. The first being module availability with the punitive uncertainty of the looming tariffs. Sponsors and investors have gobbled up inventory from most tier 1 manufacturers. We fall into this category as we’ve also secured modules to assist our development partners fulfill their pipeline. The second current impact is a reluctance of developers and financiers to engage in new projects that aren’t supported by existing inventory. Essentially not wanting to take tariff risk.

SR: If tariffs are imposed, how do you think that will that impact the market in future?

SM: It really depends on how punitive the tariff is. If the administration is interested in the aesthetics of the tariff and the potential for Americans to view the tariff as sticking up for American labor then we may see a 20% to 40% tariff which isn’t ideal but it’s also not a backbreaker for the industry. If the administration is interested in significantly penalizing manufacturers, the US solar industry would take a big hit. Thousands of jobs will be lost and all the positive momentum that has been gained over the years will be lost. Let’s hope it’s the former and not the latter.

SR: Do you see or expect to see a shift to more systems purchases rather than PPAs in this market?

SM: Under the current capital landscape and ITC window, I don’t. With an influx of capital in the marketplace we have seen margin compression and simply more PPA options. In a rising interest rate environment with an ITC step down or elimination then yes, I do think we will see an increase in system purchases relative to PPAs, as investors will look elsewhere for returns.

SR: Is the flow of tax equity into the market sufficient to meet the demand?

SM: With so many buyers scouring their networks for projects that will reach commercial operation in 2017, I would say there’s definitely a healthy amount of tax efficient capital in the marketplace currently. Now where that capital is being deployed might be a little saturated with utility, large-scale C&I and residential garnering the large majority of it. With small C&I, there are only a few tax efficient capital sources available.

SR: Creditworthiness has been an ongoing challenge in this market. Do you see any solutions developing to tackle this challenge?

SM: We definitely agree that the unrated sector of the market has been drastically underserved for years and due to its size has huge potential for Behind-the-Meter solar. There are two general approaches to credit; 1) Pricing credit risk into projects, and 2) Mitigation through off-taker contractual obligations.

Through our software, the SCF Suite and in conjunction with the use of Moody’s RiskCalc, we’ve developed a credit rating system that can be utilized in real time. With data from an off taker’s financial statements, a credit rating can be obtained within our software as well as an indication of whether we view the off taker as an investment grade party. Now this system and methodology has allowed us quantify credit risk, price that risk into our projects, and ultimately bring capital to the C&I sector.

Another approach would be to insure against off-taker default. These products are relatively new and can be cost-effective in some instances, but the market isn’t fully developed yet.

I think the key for the marketplace as a whole is to take a view on credit using a rational benchmark. Whether that benchmark is Moody’s or another analytic, making assumption on a probability of default and price it into the project. Insurance is certainly a viable alternative, as long as it’ cost effective. With more insurance products available, this approach will take-off. Either way, I think pricing our perceived risk into a project or obtaining insurance, is a much better way to address credit concerns as opposed to requiring a letter of credit, or including financial convnants in a PPA.

SR: If we get a tax reform, what is an impact you see happening to the market?

SM: It really depends on what level of tax reform is effectuated. If we see a major tax reform on corporate taxes, it could very well reduce the available supply of tax equity in the marketplace and thereby an increase in the cost of tax equity capital. If reform is minor, which is likely given the lack of party cohesion, we might see a slight decrease in the supply of tax equity capital and a slight increase in the cost of tax equity capital. Now all of this assumes that there isn’t a large influx of new tax equity capital into the marketplace which I don’t think is accurate. I think we will see new tax equity investors enter the marketplace and offset some of the impact of potential tax reform.

About Sustainable Capital Finance:  Sustainable Capital Finance (SCF) is a third party financier & owner/operator of commercial & industrial (C&I) solar assets and is comprised of experts that specialize in structured finance and solar development. SCF has a vast network of EPCs and Developers across the US that submit project development opportunities through SCF’s cloud-based platform, the “SCF Suite”. This allows SCF to acquire and develop early to mid-stage C&I solar projects, while aggregating them into large portfolios.

SCF has standardized the diligence and transaction process, thus creating cost-efficiencies and risk mitigation, in order to solidify the C&I marketplace as an investment-worthy asset class. For more information, visit http://www.scf.com. Connect with us on Twitter at @SCF_News and follow us on Linkedin and Facebook!

About Stratton Report: As the power industry develops new business models, Stratton Report is there with news and analysis of deals, developments, trends and innovations. Our coverage provides you with the insights of today’s top industry thought leaders and key industry players. Wherever something new exciting and different is being tried in the world of electric power, you’ll find us asking questions, providing answers, and connecting you to the people you’ll need to succeed in this ever-changing industry. For more information, visit www.strattonreport.com.

This interview was original published here by Stratton Report and was republished with permission.

By Elizabeth Crouse, K&L Gates LLP

Early in the morning of Saturday, December 2, the U.S. Senate voted along party lines to approve its version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the “Act”). The U.S. House of Representatives approved its rather different version of the bill on Thursday, November 16, 2017. Although the two bills now must proceed through the conference process to reconcile their differences, many predict that any bill ultimately sent to the President will largely resemble the Senate version. It is not clear how long the conference process may take, but Congressional Republicans have indicated that they intend to send a final bill to the President before Christmas, perhaps as early as December 15. Ultimately, while it appears that the investment tax credit (“ITC”) and production tax credit (“PTC”) provisions likely will not be changed in the reconciliation bill, the net effect of other provisions, particularly a new “International AMT,” may significantly chill the tax equity market that supports much of the renewable energy industry.

The PTC and ITC Provisions Are Not Expected to Change

The tax reform measure approved by the full Senate includes several changes compared to the version approved by the Senate Finance Committee and also differs in some significant ways compared to the House bill. It is important to note that while the House bill includes dramatic cuts to the PTC and more limited revisions to the ITC, the Senate bill would not change either credit program. During the Senate Finance Committee mark-up, Republicans indicated their intent to address the availability of the ITC and PTC for certain “orphan” technologies before the end of the year. Addressing energy provisions in a different tax package would relieve some of the pressure on revenues in the tax reform bill as lawmakers must stay within the budget reconciliation instruction constraints, including that the deficit may not be increased by more than $1.5 trillion over a ten-year period.

Provisions That May Suppress Tax Equity Investment

However, both bills include radical changes to corporate and international taxation that may suppress investment in renewable energy projects that qualify for the ITC and PTC.

  • First, the change in the corporate income tax rate to a flat 20% rate (or perhaps a 22% rate, based on recent statements from the President), temporary renewal of 100% bonus depreciation and increased expensing of capital investments are expected to reduce appetite for tax credits because of generally reduced corporate exposure to U.S. federal income taxes. In addition, the Senate bill would not repeal the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax. (Under current law, a corporation that is subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax may be required to pay tax on income that would otherwise be sheltered by the PTC or ITC under certain circumstances. However, there is a significant effort to at least reduce the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax in the reconciliation bill.)
  • Second, in the course of changing the United States from a “worldwide” to a “territorial” tax system, the bills would add “base erosion” provisions that may inhibit investment by multinational corporations in the United States generally and specifically in PTC and ITC projects. In other words, under the bills, a person would be required to pay U.S. federal income tax on the income it earns in the United States, but not outside of the United States. The base erosion provisions are intended to limit the ability of a taxpayer to reduce its U.S. income through certain transactions and arrangements with non-U.S. affiliates. One of these rules would discourage a U.S. company from financing its operations with debt from a non-U.S. affiliate beyond a certain point.

Another base erosion provision would require a U.S. corporation to pay tax on 10% (11% if it is a bank) of (x) its “modified” taxable income, less (y) the tax it would otherwise pay without taking into consideration its U.S. federal income tax credits other than the research and development credit. A U.S. corporation is subject to this rule if it pays non-U.S. affiliates for a threshold amount of goods and services, e.g., component parts or administration, and the multinational group has gross receipts of more than $500 million on average over the prior three years (the “International AMT”). Although generally applicable, this rule would require a calculation of adjusted income that would not account for the PTC or ITC, regardless of when the PTCs or ITCs were earned. Thus, a company that is subject to the International AMT will likely be required to pay tax on income that would otherwise be sheltered by the PTC or ITC, including income that may be sheltered under the existing Alternative Minimum Tax rules. There are reports that a coalition of Republican Senators are attempting to exclude the PTC and ITC from the adjusted income calculation for the International AMT, but it is not clear that will be accomplished during the reconciliation process.

What does this mean for the renewable energy industry?

If the bill that ultimately crosses the President’s desk largely mirrors the Senate bill, it is likely that many of the very large tax equity investors will become subject to the International AMT (since many of those investors are banks, they are also likely to become subject to the higher International AMT rate). Some of those investors have indicated that they will attempt to sell their PTC and ITC holdings and will pull back from further investment. While it seems unlikely that the largest investors will completely exit the PTC and ITC market, even a partial withdrawal seems likely to cause significant turbulence in the market. While the provisions applicable to the tax equity investors that are not subject to the International AMT are more of a mixed bag, the reduction in the corporate income tax rate and increase in bonus depreciation may curb their PTC and ITC appetite.

There is a reasonable possibility that the reconciliation bill will diverge from the bills in material ways, particularly if the President’s recent statements considering a 22% corporate income tax rate are taken seriously. In any event, it seems likely that negotiations over the tax bills may convert the Suniva Section 201 proceeding into just one among several concerns for those riding the “solarcoaster” in the months ahead. At the same time, the uncertainty that the Senate and House bills create with respect to the PTC will occupy the attention of the wind industry.

About K&L GatesK&L Gates is a fully integrated global law firm with lawyers located across five continents.  K&L Gates serves clients in virtually all renewable energy and clean technology sectors in developed and developing nations alike.  K&L Gates clients operate in solar, wind, biomass, hydropower, geothermal, and complementary sectors, including energy storage, distributed generation, smart grid, transmission, and corporate energy sourcing.

About Sustainable Capital Finance:  Sustainable Capital Finance (SCF) is a third party financier & owner/operator of commercial & industrial (C&I) solar assets and is comprised of experts that specialize in structured finance and solar development. SCF has a vast network of EPCs and Developers across the US that submit project development opportunities through SCF’s cloud-based platform, the “SCF Suite”. This allows SCF to acquire and develop early to mid-stage C&I solar projects, while aggregating them into large portfolios. SCF has standardized the diligence and transaction process, thus creating cost-efficiencies and risk mitigation, in order to solidify the C&I marketplace as an investment-worthy asset class. For more information, visit http://www.scf.com. Connect with us on Twitter at @SCF_News and follow us on Linkedin and Facebook!