Author Archives: Jessica Feingold

Hawaii Passes Bill To Democratize Clean Energy

Last week, Hawaii passed a landmark bill, SB 1087, which will allow the state to create and issue a “Green Infrastructure Bond.”  This bond structure will secure low-cost financing for a variety of clean energy installations, with a focus on reaching populations that cannot afford or do not have access to these energy saving improvements today.  The bond proceeds will be used to fund an on-bill program currently under development at the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC).  The on-bill program, which is very much in line with EDF’s recommendations for on-bill repayment (OBR), will provide access to low-cost financing for clean energy projects for residential and small commercial customers.

The bill’s intent is to use this low-cost capital to expand access to affordable clean energy for all of Hawaii’s consumers, acknowledging that “Existing programs and incentives do not serve the entire spectrum of the customer market, particularly those customers who lack access to capital or who cannot afford the large upfront costs required-thus creating an underserved market.”  Funding projects with a focus on serving populations that do not have access to other means of financing is especially important in the Aloha State, where electricity rates are the highest in the nation.

The state will issue the bonds and then repay bondholders with funds collected from a utility surcharge, providing a secure form of repayment.  The framework enables a portion of the existing Public Benefits Fee (PBF), currently charged to customers, to be redirected so that overall customer bills are not expected to increase. Read More »

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A Clean Energy Paradise In The Pacific

When people think Hawaiian paradise, usually beaches, sun and trade winds come to mind. The price of energy? Not so much.

The state actually has the highest electric rates in the nation, approximately 2 to 3 times higher than the average price on the mainland. Given these high rates and the relatively mild climate, it makes sense that Hawaii’s customers are among the lowest monthly consumers of electricity at 585 kWh per month. However, despite low energy use, Hawaii’s customers still have the highest electric bills in the nation, at a whopping $203 per month on average. That’s 20 percent higher than the next highest state’s average bill!

It’s appropriate, then, that the Aloha State is on the forefront of policy measures intended to lower energy bills by looking to energy efficiency and renewable energy. Hawaii’s sunny days, coupled with its extraordinarily high cost of electricity, make going solar a relatively attractive option. And, not to mention, a much cleaner option given that the state relies on petroleum to generate over 75 percent of its electricity. In fact, Hawaii ranks third in the nation for total installed solar electric capacity per capita. However, the upfront cost of installation remains a significant barrier to widespread adoption of clean energy technologies. Access to financing is limited to those with stellar credit, and there is little incentive for renters to pay for energy upgrades to properties they don’t own. In Hawaii, solutions that work for renters are especially important since over 40 percent of the state’s residents rent.

But all is not lost. On February 1st, the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC) delivered a blueprint of a promising on-bill program to help residents and small commercial customers — including renters — invest in cost-saving, clean energy projects. By allowing for repayment of private financing for energy efficiency and renewable projects on customers’ monthly utility bills, Hawaii would be the first-in-the-nation to offer a statewide residential and small commercial on-bill program. The program works for renters and property owners because the energy benefits and the repayment obligation transfer from tenant to tenant with the property, enabling customers to invest in projects that outlast their terms of occupancy. Read More »

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Hawaii Making Waves In Financing Clean Energy

Public Utility Commission orders on-bill program to finance clean energy

Last Friday evening, February 1, the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC) issued a landmark decision and order to create an on-bill program, very much in line with EDF’s recommendations for on-bill repayment (OBR), that will provide access to low-cost financing for solar and energy efficiency projects for homeowners and small businesses.  This decision comes 18 months after the State passed legislation directing the PUC to investigate an on-bill program and authorized the Commission to implement the program (by decision and order or by rules) if the on-bill program was found to be viable.

The PUC decision determined that a statewide on-bill program is viable, and specified program design criteria that the Commission deems necessary to achieve viability.  EDF has been working to shape the proposal with key stakeholders including environmental groups, lenders and the Hawaii State Energy Office.

The specified criteria include the following components that EDF believes are critical for achieving both success and scale:

  1. bill neutrality (project savings exceed financing payment obligations)
  2. tariff-based obligation
  3. tariff is tied to the utility meter and therefore transferable
  4. standard collection procedures, including disconnection for non-payment of OBR obligation
  5. pro-rata allocation of partial payments

Since the terminology can be confusing, it is worth noting that this is not a typical ratepayer-funded on-bill finance program, despite having the same designation. The Hawaii program leverages private capital, and the PUC supports participation by multiple sources of capital rather than a single financing entity.  EDF believes both of these elements are critical to scaling the program and meeting the needs of a diverse set of property owners.

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The Housing Market And Green Labels: Location! Location! Efficiency!

From produce to t-shirts, we know certain people are willing to pay more for organic, and that these people often seek out restaurants, vendors and brands that have earned certifications for their commitments to sustainable practices. Labels help consumers, who increasingly face a multitude of product and service offerings, make informed decisions. But what about a sustainably-labeled house? Will people pay more for a certifiably more efficient, or “green,” home?

A recent study, The Value of Green Labels in the California Housing Market,” suggests that the market places significant value on certified green homes in California. Such green-labeled homes fetched a 9% premium versus non-labeled homes, based on statewide sales data for 1.6 million homes from 2007 to 2012. This translates to a $34,800 price premium for a home labeled by at least one of three standards: ENERGY STAR, LEED for Homes or California’s own GreenPoint label, on the $400,000 sales price of a non-labeled home. The research was conducted by Matthew E. Kahn, an economics professor at UCLA, and Nils Kok of Maastricht University in the Netherlands, a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley. Their analysis controls for variables known to affect real estate prices including location, size, vintage and the presence of amenities.

The study estimates that the typical single-family California household spends $200/month on utilities, and thus stands to benefit from $720 in annual savings from energy efficiency measures that would reduce energy use by 30%. The authors point out that the $34,800 price premium of a green-labeled home is 48x the annual estimated utility bill savings of $720, suggesting that consumers value efficient homes for more than the direct financial benefits they produce.

All else equal, it is well understood that a resource efficient home uses less energy than an inefficient one, and will therefore have lower operating costs. But Kahn and Kok point out that ‘the added value of a green-labeled home far exceeds both the estimated cost of adding energy efficiency features to a home and the utility-bill savings generated by those improvements.’  

Since the non-financial benefits of a green-labeled home are a seemingly large part of their perceived value, effectively promoting energy efficiency requires a targeted marketing approach that taps into the consumer’s values -  perhaps some combination of increased comfort, improved indoor air quality and the signal of ‘conspicuous conservation’ that lets your neighbors know your own particular “shade of green.”  In fact, the study found that the value of a green-labeled home was positively correlated with the level of environmental ideology of a neighborhood, as measured by the percent of hybrid vehicle registrations. 

We tend to focus on cash-flows when doing a cost-benefit analysis of energy efficiency financing programs, weighing the upfront installation costs versus the resulting monthly utility bill savings. This makes sense given that non-financial benefits, to date, have been hard to value. However, this study is an indication that these benefits are indeed monetized at sale – and a 9% price premium sends a strong message that it pays to invest in energy efficiency!

Posted in California, Energy Efficiency | 1 Response, comments now closed

Energy Efficiency: A Resource For The Masses

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.

Posted in California, Energy Efficiency, On-bill repayment | Tagged | 2 Responses, comments now closed