An article recently posted in the Novogradac and Company Journal of Tax Credits discusses the implications of securing financing for solar energy developments utilizing long-term SREC contracts (as opposed to state rebate and grant money). We recommend reading the full article, but we wanted to provide a quick analysis of its central points, and follow up on the central strength of long-term SREC financing that this article misses.
The article observes that regional and state solar grant and rebate programs are being cut back as cash strapped governments find ways to reduce costs. In replacement of the grant and rebate programs, states (like Massachusetts) are instituting performance-based incentive structures, also known as Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) markets. The subsidy for solar development is tied to performance, the value of the subsidy is determined by market and regulatory forces, and the costs of funding the subsidy are distributed to regulated energy suppliers and their customers.
The article concludes that securing long-term contracts for the sale of SRECs provides a solar energy developer with better leverage to secure financing for his or her project because the SREC contract provides a stable revenue stream for the financier. We agree in full. The article also notes, “prices offered in contracts could likely be either the floor price or something perceived as substantially below market”. While this point may appeal to those bullish on the future of SREC markets; we think this article misses a fundamental purpose of SREC markets.
The intended goal of SREC markets and Renewable Portfolio Standards is it to stimulate economies of scale for solar development, driving down manufacturing and installation costs thereby pushing solar energy markets towards grid parity (i.e. making solar electricity competitive with fossil fuel generated electricity). As solar development costs continue to decrease and the number of solar energy projects increases, the supply of SRECs on the market can quickly outpace the demand created by SREC Alternative Compliance Payments which would cause the floor price of SRECs to fall. For example, in Massachusetts the floor price is currently determined by the Clearinghouse Auction price of $285.00. In the event an energy supplier could broker with project owners to secure SRECs at a value below $285.00, the Clearinghouse Auction would freeze up and the market would find a new bottom.
We think one of the reasons investors often favor long-term SREC contracts instead of spot market transactions is precisely because there is certainty about the SREC floor price. Aggregators like Sol Systems, who manage a portfolio of SRECs through long-term contracts with energy suppliers, provide both a stable cash flow for the project developer as well as security against the intended consequence of a successful SREC market and Renewable Portfolio Standard. And, herein lies the paradox: a successful and vibrant SREC market creates exponential solar development, which drives down SREC values and leads to a mature solar market that does not require an SREC market.