Many prospective solar energy owners are quick to notice that spot market rates for Solar Renewable Energy Credits (Solar RECs or “SRECs”) are typically higher than long-term SREC rates on the contract start date. For example, a person that owns a solar energy system in Delaware could sell a single SREC on the spot market for approximately $275 in December 2010, but if that same person wanted to lock-in at a 5 year SREC rate, she would only be able to get approximately $250 for each SREC produced between today and 2015.

This price difference sometimes leads solar owners to sell their SRECs on the spot market, particularly if they expect SREC prices to go up over time.

So, why would a solar owner choose to enter a long term SREC agreement?

The main reason a system owner would choose a long term contract is because they realize that spot market rates may not always stay high. These owners prefer to guarantee their SREC returns by locking into a fixed rate multi-year contract, which will give them long term security and a predictable source of income. If these system owners are correct, they will end up getting more income over time than they would have by selling their SRECs on the spot market.

But why are long term rates lower than current spot market prices?

There are a few reasons why multi-year contract rates are initially lower than spot market rates, and they relate to SREC buyers appetite to buy SRECs. Let’s start by considering the profile of an SREC buyer.

The ultimate SREC buyer is an energy supplier or utility that is subject to a state Renewable Portfolio Standard with a solar carve-out. These energy suppliers and utilities have the choice of:
(1) Building solar power plants and generating solar energy themselves
(2) Buying the environmental attributes of solar (SRECs) from independent solar energy system owners, or
(3) Paying an Alternative Compliance Payment (ACP) or a penalty fee for not meeting their legislative mandates

If these energy suppliers and utilities do not own operational solar power plants, they typically prefer to buy SRECs. If they want to buy SRECs they can do so by buying them on the spot market or they can enter multi-year agreements at a pre-determined price.

Most energy suppliers will hedge their bets by buying some SRECs on the spot market and some SRECs through multi-year agreements. However, in virtually all cases, these energy suppliers will contract for lower prices per SREC for multi-year agreements than they will pay on today’s spot market. There are a few reasons for this:
(1) They expect that they will not need to buy SRECs in the future. Why? They plan to build solar power plants and generate their own solar energy, so they won’t have to buy them from independent system owners.
(2) They expect that they can buy SRECs at lower costs in the future. Why? They anticipate that there will be more solar projects and that the increased SREC supply (http://www.solsystemscompany.com/faqs-recs-and-srecs) will lead to lower SREC prices.
(3) They want to wait and see what happens to requirements and prices in future years. Why? They expect that legislative changes may reduce or eliminate the requirement for them to buy SRECs.

In other words, energy suppliers themselves believe SREC prices will go down. Because of these expectations, energy suppliers are usually only willing to engage in multi-year agreements at reduced SREC prices. And these uncertainties are the very same risk factors that create SREC spot market volatility.

In summary, when choosing between the SREC spot market and a long term contract, a solar energy system owner should examine their appetite for risk and reward.
System owners who choose to sell their SRECs on the spot market get the reward of higher spot market prices today, but they are likely to face reduced or eliminated SREC values in future years. System owners who choose to sell their SRECs through long term contracts typically receive lower SREC rates today, but they get more certainty on their solar investment returns.

About Sol Systems:
As the largest and oldest SREC aggregator in the U.S., Sol Systems aggregates SRECs from independent solar energy system owners and sells them directly to energy suppliers and utilities through spot-market arrangements and multi-year contracts. Sol Systems operates in 13 states. For more information, please visit www.solsystemscompany.com.