California Utilities Announce Innovative Financing For Energy Efficiency Retrofits

This commentary was originally posted on the EDF California Dream 2.0 Blog.

On-Bill Repayment

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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