Last week the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved energy efficiency programs and budgets that include an innovative On-Bill Repayment (OBR) program. The OBR program will allow commercial property owners to finance energy efficiency or renewable generation upgrades for their buildings and repay the obligation through the utility bill. The program is ‘open-source’ and is designed to allow a wide variety of contractors, solar installers, and energy efficiency project developers to work with a range of financial institutions to design offerings that best meet the needs of their customers.
The CPUC approval was highlighted today in the New York Times.
In the decision, the CPUC reiterated their intention to have the OBR program operational by March 2013. We understand that some of the utilities have expressed concern that this timeline is aggressive, but were pleased that the CPUC decision noted that the utilities have been aware of this timeline since the original CPUC decision last May.
A predictable timeline for OBR implementation is critical as EDF is working closely with multiple market participants to create a pipeline of projects that can be executed as soon as the program is operational. A successful launch will allow us to demonstrate to other states that OBR can create private investment and new jobs at no cost to ratepayers or taxpayers. We believe that this is a message that will resonate across the political spectrum.
Yesterday, the California investor-owned utilities (Sempra, SoCalEd and PG&E) announced several financing programs including the first On-Bill Repayment (OBR) program using third-party capital to finance energy efficiency retrofits in commercial properties. Property owners would be able to access low-cost capital to finance upgrades and repay the investment through their utility bill. The OBR program will contain three design elements that EDF believes are critical to success:
- The obligation will ‘run with the meter’ upon change in ownership or occupancy including via foreclosure. This both improves the credit quality of the obligation and allows investment in longer-payback retrofits.
- Partial payments will be allocated pro rata between energy and financing obligations. The utilities will also use all standard collection procedures for unpaid obligations. These features insure that the obligation will be treated similarly to existing utility bills.
- The program will provide flexibility for vendors, contractors, project developers, lenders and other investors to design retrofit solutions, go-to-market strategies and financing products that meet the needs of their customers.
Over the next 10 years, EDF estimates that OBR could generate $6 billion of private sector investment in commercial energy efficiency investment. During the next few years, EDF hopes to expand this initial program to additional states, and to cover residential properties.
EDF has been assuming that the California OBR program would only cover energy efficiency retrofits. In a sidebar conversation with a senior California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) staff member, yesterday, I learned that it may be possible to extend OBR to renewable and demand response projects. We expect to be working closely with relevant stakeholders and the CPUC to make this a reality.
OBR is expected to be operational in California by the end of March 2013. EDF will be working closely with energy efficiency project developers, energy services companies, lenders and other investors to develop a robust pipeline of OBR projects that can be executed soon after program initiation.
Next week, the California investor-owned utilities – Sempra, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric – will be hosting a workshop to announce their proposals for energy efficiency financing programs as mandated by the California Public Utilities Commission (“CPUC”) in their May decision. The proposals are being developed by Harcourt, Brown and Carey (“HBC”) and are expected to include an On-Bill Repayment (OBR) program for commercial and other non-residential properties.
As I’ve mentioned before, OBR programs allow property owners to finance energy efficiency and/or renewable energy projects with third-party banks or other investors. Property owners repay their loan via their utility bill and that obligation stays linked to the meter upon a sale of the property.
Based on conversations with HBC and other stakeholders, EDF is optimistic that the program will be the first on-bill program in the country that funds energy efficiency retrofit projects entirely with private capital at no cost to ratepayers or taxpayers. The program will be flexible enough to accommodate a wide variety of property types, retrofit measures, financing structures and customer acquisition models.
The workshop will be open to the public and held from 9:00am-5:00pm on Tuesday, October 2nd in the Auditorium at the California Public Utilities Commission (505 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA).
Moving Forward with OBR for Commercial Properties
Earlier this year, the California Public Utilities Commission (“CPUC”) issued a decision requiring the state’s investor-owned utilities to establish several financing programs, including an On-Bill Repayment (“OBR”) program for commercial properties. OBR programs allow property owners to finance energy efficiency and/or renewable energy projects with third-party banks or other investors. Property owners repay their loan via their utility bill and that obligation stays linked to the meter upon a sale of the property.
EDF has been working closely with the utilities, environmental groups, financial institutions, project developers and other key stakeholders to craft a program that provides low-cost financing for retrofits, does not require ratepayer subsidies and has maximum flexibility to allow vendors and investors to decide how best to serve their customers’ needs. We are cautiously optimistic that the utility proposal will meet these objectives when it is released to the public on October 1, 2012.
The CPUC, however, believes that they currently do not have the regulatory authority to extend the OBR program to residential properties. EDF has been pursuing legislation to grant this authority to the CPUC, but, at this time, we do not expect that it will pass in the 2012 legislative session. EDF plans to re-introduce the residential-focused legislation in 2013 with a broad range of supporters, including several key members of the legislature.
EDF has also begun work to establish OBR programs in Ohio, North Carolina and Texas. So far, the reception has been quite positive in each state and we are hopeful that OBR may be a market-based, clean energy solution that has appeal across the political spectrum.
This commentary was originally posted on the EDF Energy Exchange Blog.
By: Jessica Feingold, EDF Financial Policy Fellow
EDF believes that On-Bill Repayment (OBR) can do for efficiency what the third-party finance model has done for solar.
A recent post on efficiency.org, entitled ‘Solar is for the wealthy? Not anymore!’ highlights the growth of residential solar projects in middle-income markets (areas with median incomes of $50k-$100k) at the same time that financing became widely available from the private sector. While wealthier people have always been more likely to be able to afford the upfront costs of a solar installation, the introduction of solar leases and Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) has extended the opportunity to a much wider range of consumers. This increase was described in detail in the 2012 California Solar Initiative Assessment. The success of solar among middle income households – achieved by eliminating upfront costs and allowing for monthly repayment through a solar lease or PPA structure – lends support to the notion that low-cost financing will be critical to making similar advancements in energy efficiency.
EDF has been working to create an OBR program in California that would provide financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades. OBR uses private capital to finance these clean energy upgrades at no upfront cost to consumers. However, OBR differs from the existing clean energy financing models in that it allows for repayment of a clean energy investment on the customer’s monthly utility bill. This reduces the administrative burden of an additional bill, while at the same time strengthening the credit of the loan by leveraging historically strong utility payment history. Thus, OBR would provide low-cost capital to consumers for clean energy upgrades.
Middle-income earners, in particular, stand to benefit from OBR, since they otherwise do not have access to low-cost, unsecured financing. Middle-income households are highly price-sensitive and likely do not have sufficient savings or home equity available to make clean energy investments that would reduce their utility bills, resource use and reliance on grid power. That is precisely why private sector financing was critical to promoting solar among middle-income households. Energy efficiency projects, on the other hand, have not yet attracted the low-cost private capital needed to achieve such widespread success.
OBR is an innovative financing solution that would allow middle-income households to realize the long-term benefits of energy efficiency, and provide more affordable financing for renewable energy projects as well.