Yesterday, my colleague Scott Hofmeister described an insurance pool that California has introduced to help communities integrate Property Assessed Clean Energy (“PACE”), a unique program that allows homeowners to finance money-saving clean energy retrofits through their property tax bill. These programs are popular in Sonoma, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Kern, and Fresno Counties, and we expect them to spread rapidly throughout the state.
Home Energy Renovation Opportunity (HERO), a residential PACE program run by Renovate America that has partnered with the Western Riverside Council of Governments, has funded over $180 million of clean energy retrofit projects in a little more than two years of operation. These investments are expected to save homeowners more than 2 billion kilowatt-hours, reduce consumers’ utility bills by almost $500 million and avoid more than 1.4 million metric tons of CO2 emissions, or the equivalent of removing almost 300,000 passenger vehicles from the road for a full year. And notably, the HERO program is entirely funded by private investors. Read More
Two weeks ago, State Senator Kevin de León introduced a bill to establish the first “Green Bank” in California, a bold proposal that would unleash low-cost financing opportunities for clean energy projects throughout the Golden State.
I recently had the opportunity to testify at a hearing on the bill to discuss the best practices for green banks across the country and how the program would work in California.
First, a bit more on Green Banks:
At its core, the program is a clean energy finance bank set up by the state, designed to enable increased investment in clean energy projects and companies by working closely with the private sector to remove financial or structural barriers. The goal is simple: increase the amount of clean energy at a low-cost and encourage private investment by reducing the overall risk of clean energy projects. Read More
Source: The Green Leaf
EDF has been advocating for states to establish On-Bill Repayment (OBR) programs that allow property owners and tenants to finance clean energy retrofits directly through their utility bills with no upfront cost. California and Connecticut are working to establish OBR programs, but Hawaii is expected to beat them to the punch. Hawaii’s program is critical as electric rates are about double the average of mainland states and most electricity has historically been generated with dirty, expensive oil.
Given the potential of OBR to lower electricity bills, reduce that state’s carbon footprint, and expand job growth in the clean energy sector, EDF has been working closely with Hawaii and multiple private sector investors for the past year to develop their OBR program. Once formally launched later this spring, Hawaii’s program will be one of only two in the nation, preceded by New York who enacted their program in 2011.
Last year, the trade association for the utility industry, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), published a whitepaper on the disruptive challenges facing the utility industry. In summary, EEI’s thesis was that the existing utility business model (centralized, fossil-fuel based generation) is under threat from on-site, distributed generation as more customers switch to cleaner, and often cheaper, solar power. The white paper poses an important question: How can utilities acquire the revenue needed to keep the electric grid humming and provide reliable power to all customers if a growing number of people are producing their own electricity?
In business, one of the most difficult problems that companies face is how to adapt a successful business model to technological or social changes that threaten that business model. Wang, Unisys, DEC and Amdahl were all big computer companies in the 1970’s that clung to an obsolete business model in the face of distributed computing. IBM and HP, on the other hand, adapted their business models and generally thrived.
Over the past year, we have seen several utilities tackling this challenge head-on by investing in distributed, renewable energy projects. In September, I wrote about how NextEra and NRG were voluntarily developing solar investments and how Direct Energy and Viridian were investing in solar installations developed by SolarCity. Read More
Progressive Power Providers Show a Path Forward
Traditionally, electric utilities have been in the business of providing reliable power to their customers. Prices for each class of customer are fixed by state regulators and a customer’s choice is pretty much limited to whether they want to turn on the switch or not. Much of the EDF Smart Power initiative is focused on helping to create new utility business models that change this paradigm by increasing customer choice, providing market feedback on these choices and incentivizing the use of cleaner sources of power.
Several electric utilities are getting ahead of the curve by embracing these changes. While both own large fossil fuel assets, NRG Energy and NextEra Energy have also been developing utility-scale and distributed renewable generation projects across the country. NRG Energy develops solar and other renewable projects for government, commercial and other institutional customers, and NextEra Energy, the largest generator of wind and solar power in North America, develops and finances large commercial and small utility solar projects through its subsidiary Smart Energy Capital. Cumulatively, they have provided more than 110 megawatts of distributed solar generation capacity to schools, government and commercial facilities, among others.
Over the past week, two other energy providers, Direct Energy and Viridian, have announced deals with SolarCity to offer no-upfront cost solar installations to their current and prospective customers. In many cases, these solar installations will provide clean energy at a lower cost than the customer currently pays for dirtier, fossil fuel power. Direct Energy even took it a step further by agreeing to provide part of the financing for their customers. Since there are few investors that currently finance solar projects, Direct Energy can expect to earn a very attractive return on their investment. While solar financing has been around for several years, Direct Energy and Viridian can now offer customer solutions that bundle solar installations with other energy services.
This commentary originally appeared on EDF's California Dream 2.0 blog.
I spend most of my time working to establish On-Bill Repayment programs that allow property owners to use their utility bill to repay loans for cost-saving energy efficiency or renewable energy upgrades. Many of my colleagues work on a similar program known as Property Assessed Clean Energy (“PACE”), which uses the property tax bill for repayment. Since both utility and property tax bills are usually paid, both PACE and OBR are expected to lower the cost and increase the availability of financing for clean energy projects.
Last week, I was invited to attend a meeting of the leading PACE program administrators, property owners and other market participants in the country — and was pleasantly surprised to learn how much progress is being made.
Connecticut launched their program in January and is expected to close $20 million of PACE transactions for commercial properties by year end. The Toledo, Ohio area expects to have executed $18 million of commercial transactions by the end of 2013. Sonoma County, with a population of less than 500,000, has already completed $64 million of financings for residential and commercial properties. In late 2012, CaliforniaFIRST launched a PACE program for commercial properties that has already received 130 applications.