Psychologically, when most people hear the word “financing,” they have a quick and negative reaction about cost. I understand the perception. If you look at the total financing cost on your home, you pay an amount over 30 years that can be twice the purchase price!
But most energy projects are different from your home mortgage. The savings is greater than the finance cost (especially with today’s low interest rates). Yet lack of capital and financing cost are the most common reasons why good energy projects are delayed or cancelled.
An energy project can have a rate of return over 30% – higher than most investment opportunities and many companies’ profit margins. Even with a 10% financing cost, you are still 20% ahead compared to doing nothing.
Lack of capital is solvable for many projects. I will outline solutions, some old and some new. I hope this article inspires you to challenge anyone who tries to block a good project based on the premise that money is not available and the financing cost too high. The truth is, you are probably throwing bags of money out the window – and that money cannot be recovered, even if you do a conservation project at a later date.
Among recent financing innovations are Utility Energy Service Contracts (UESC), Power Purchase Agreements, on-bill financing, and Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing.
Utility Energy Service Contracts are basically performance contracts that are developed and implemented by utilities. The contracts offer some streamlining because utilities can provide the project funds and make deals with neutral cash flow.
Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) are commonly used for solar PV and wind generation. In a PPA, solar is put on the roof at no upfront cost to the building owner, who agrees to purchase the kWh produced over a long-term contract. The PPA is typically structured so that the building owner is paying about the same price for the solar kWhs as they would for power from the grid. This works well when the grid price is high, the utility is cooperative, and local incentives are available.
On-bill financing is offered by some progressive utilities, typically as part of a Demand Side Management Strategy that benefits the utility. As the name implies, building owners repay the installation costs with an extra charge on their future utility bills. The deal is structured so that the monthly savings is larger than the extra charge. The improvement can be linked to the meter, so that if the owner sells the building, the savings and the repayment are taken over by the new owner.
PACE is very similar to the on-bill financing concept except that the savings and repayment are linked to the property tax, so that if an owner sells a property, the new owner would assume the property tax amendment (i.e. extra payment). However, any new owner also reaps the savings cash flow. In recent years, PACE has become very popular. This financing vehicle has now been enabled by legislation in 31 states.
There are also many traditional financing options available to facility managers. If you decide to finance a project with a loan, bond, true lease, capital lease, or other leasing variation, you may have some new vocabulary to learn. You may also need an accountant to evaluate such things as depreciation. (And note that there are some new tax regulations for depreciation in 2014.) Take a little time to understand this information as well as the view from the CFO (or whoever signs the contract). To get approved, the CFO has to say “yes.” Try to make it easy – or even irresistible – for him.
Performance contracting has been around for decades and allows projects to be developed by an Energy Service Company (ESCO) that offers a performance guarantee on the savings in which the savings are greater than the finance payment, which is usually handled by a third-party financier. This approach can be attractive because, in theory, the savings are risk free due to the guarantee.
Performance contracting is more common with government, institutional, and educational facilities because financiers are more comfortable lending money to organizations that are likely to survive a recession and other difficult business cycles. Contracts can become complex (for both the ESCO and the facility) and it takes time to understand them as well as get legal endorsement, which adds time and cost.
Local incentives and rebates from utilities can be substantial and improve the return on investment if you are willing to do some before/after documentation. For example, my utility will give a $10 rebate on LED lamps that cost $20. A list of free rebates, tax credits, and other incentives is available at www.dsireusa.org. Also ask your local government, chamber of commerce, and economic development office because they may have special grant money. Because the local community benefits, I have seen funding available to help pay for solar, energy efficiency, and water conservation projects.
It is clear that energy financing options have increased, leaving more choices for the facility manager – a great situation if you know where to look and how to leverage your options.
If you want some basic information about financing and performance contracting, I have a free webinar entitled Financing for Engineers that is available here. There is also information on the energy.gov and EPA websites.
For career-focused individuals that want to earn accreditation, you can look at a new certification program from the Association of Energy Engineers, the Certified Performance Contracting & Project Funding Professional. I think this type of training will help many facility managers and ESCO professionals navigate their options and accelerate project approvals.
Eric A. Woodroof, Ph.D., is the Chairman of the Board for the Certified Carbon Reduction Manager (CRM) program and he has been a board member of the Certified Energy Manager (CEM) Program since 1999. His clients include government agencies, airports, utilities, cities, universities and foreign governments. Private clients include IBM, Pepsi, GM, Verizon, Hertz, Visteon, JP Morgan-Chase, and Lockheed Martin.