Pennsylvania Executes one of the First Residential Energy Efficiency Loan Bundling Transactions

After long and diligent work, my own Commonwealth of Pennsylvania announced last week that it had successfully bundled 4,700 residential energy efficiency loans, and obtained $23 million in cash and $8.3 million in deferred payments, for a projected total of $31.3 million.  The press release is available here.

This is a holy grail of sorts.  People have been saying for years that energy efficiency loans should be able to be bundled and sold, a la mortgages and credit card loans. In theory, bundling the loans would allow private capital to invest in pools of energy efficiency loans, as opposed to individual projects, injecting more capital into the market for energy efficiency upgrades and lowering the interest rates.

Although it seemed like a workable idea, few before the Pennsylvania Treasury had accomplished it.  Energy efficiency loans were considered too weird, too complicated, too risky, etc. to be bundled.  Most critically, financial institutions mostly considered energy efficiency loans to be too risky because there was an insufficient amount of data on energy efficiency loan defaults.

In light of these issues, the Pennsylvania transaction still does not really recognize energy efficiency loans as a unique asset class.  By this I mean that the stream of income from the saved energy is not being recognized as part of the transaction.  As far as the investors are concerned, the loans could be for HVAC equipment or Manolo Blahniks, they are all just unsecured consumer loans.  In addition, Treasury still had to put up significant credit enhancements to make the loan pool desirable. 

In addition, the transaction took a long time and had high transaction costs.  A private entity probably would not have had the resources or perservernce needed to cross the finish line.  Future transactions will need to be more standardized, both with in terms of assets and documentation.

Nonetheless, the Pennsylvania transaction and the many lessons its staff learned along the way may be a very important step in accessing greater pools of capital for energy efficiency.   


Energy and Environmental Provisions of the 2012 Omnibus Spending Bill (Better read this sitting down)

As the last days of the year wind down, Congress scurries around to finish its unfinished business, almost always with "surprises" for the regulated community. 

The House appropriations committee issued a final version of the 2012 Omnibus spending bill last night.  It has, of course, significant implications for energy and environment spending, particularly spending related to climate change.

The omnibus bill cuts spending on climate change programs, prohibits the appointment of a Federal "Climate Change Czar" and cuts spending on climate change research.

Most stunning, of course, are changes to EPA funding.  The summary of the omnibus bill issued by the House appropriations committee states that EPA funding has been reduced by almost 19% in 2011:

The conference agreement funds EPA at $8.4 billion, which is a $233 million reduction below the FY 2011 enacted level and $524 million below the President’s request. Overall, funding for EPA has been reduced by $1.8 billion (-18.4%) in calendar year 2011.

The conference agreement cuts $14 million (-6%) in clean air and climate research programs; $12 million (-9.5%) in EPA’s regulatory development office; and $14 million (-5%) to air regulatory programs. In addition, the bill includes:

  • A 33% reduction to the EPA Administrator’s immediate office;
  • A $101 million reduction for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, which received $6 billion in “stimulus” funding;
  •  A $78 million reduction for EPA operations/administration, which includes $41 million
  • (-5%) in cuts to EPA’s regulatory programs;
  • A $14 million (-6.2%) reduction for uncoordinated climate and other air research; and
  •  An elimination of $4 million in funding that EPA has used to delay the processing of Appalachian mining permits.

These are some other provisions in the omnibus bill that impact the green building community:

  1. Funding for CBECS may be restored--Funding for the Commercial Building Energy which was defunded this year may be restored, paving the way for updating the baseline building energy data at the heart of Energy Star. Division B, Title III on page 44 provides $105,000,000 for the Energy Information Administration. 
  2. New energy efficient lighting standards won't go into effect-- The omnibus bill includes a rider which would prevent the new energy efficient lighting standards from going into effect on January 1st, and actually rolls back standards in effect since 2008 for floodlights. 
  3. Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program has $0.00 appropriated for 2012.  The loan guarantees are for eligible clean energy projects (i.e., agreeing to repay the borrower’s debt obligation in the event of a default), and by providing direct loans to eligible manufacturers of advanced technology vehicles and components. 
  4. Appointment of Administration “Czars” for climate change and urban affairs prohibited.

A full version of the final bill is available here, a summary from the appropriations committee is here.

The Snowflake Problem: Why Energy Efficiency Projects Are So Damned Hard To Finance

As we all learned in kindergarten, every snowflake is unique.  Now, studies have shown that is not entirely true (see here if you are marginally interested in the science of snowflakes), but close enough. 

Uniqueness may be good for snowflakes, but lousy for financial transactions. At least part of the problem in harnessing private capital to fund energy efficiency projects is the lack of standardization across projects.   Major financial institutions need big pipelines of medium- to large- deals to make the sector worthwhile.  If each transaction is significantly different, it means that underwriting standards, loan documents, due diligence and so forth have to be created from scratch for each transaction.

The solution to the snowflake problem is to standardize the transactions.  It is very tricky with energy efficiency, because each building has different features--age, system types, use, occupants, etc.  Therefore, the technology needed to create the efficiencies also differ. 

To break through the logjam, someone needs to develop one or more reliable algorithms that can be used to evaluate projects quickly, while still respecting the unique features of different projects.  Transactions could be structured around the standardized model, and then tweaked for the particulars of the transaction.  Without a reliable and replicable structure for financing energy efficiency deals, financing will always be limited and expensive.   

Part 3 Of Green Finance--Bumming Money From Your Uncle (Sam)

In Part 3 of GBLB's green finance series (find Part 1 on Top 10 Rules of Green Finance here and Part 2 on Alternative Green Financing Mechanisms here), I will address government incentives and other programs.  I will also highlight some factors that may make green incentives go from rare bird to endangered species. 

As always,  I am not a finance professional, and the goal of these posts is simply to give a high-level overview of government incentives.  As with all financial decisions, please consult your financial professional and attorney for advice specific to your project. 

The Good News About Government Incentives

  1. Programs are available at almost all levels of government--The Federal government offers grants, tax breaks, loan guarantees and technical assistance for green building and renewable energy components of commercial, residential and industrial projects.  The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has a pretty user friendly site. States also run incentive programs, and many states have renewable energy credit trading programs (also known as RECs or green tags or SRECs, etc.) which enable producers of renewable energy to get an extra stream of income from their property. For special groups, like Native American Tribes and Veterans, additional resources are available.
  2. Some programs come from unusual sources--Not all green building and renewable energy incentives come from government.  Utilities sponsor a lot of programs for both commerical and residential projects (for example, see the programs available from PECO here).  Some non profits and even faith-based organizations are providing green incentives.  A loyal Twitter follower highlighted this program by the Jewish Free Loan Association (available to those of any faith) that provides interest free loans of up to $5000 for energy efficient upgrades for homes and small businesses in the Los Angeles area.
  3. Don't neglect technical assistance programs-- One of the most underutilized incentive is technical assistance. Of course, homeowners and businesses can access technical assistance programs, but also municipalities, small businesses  and Native American Tribes can get thousands of dollars in technical assistance for free or reduced cost.  For example, in New York Con Edison provides small businesses with a free energy audit. This can ensure you maximize the benefit of your green project both environmentally and financially. 

And The Bad News

  1. The new House is seeking to cut almost all Federal green incentives--According to Green Building Chronicle,The Republican Study Group, made up of more than 100 GOP House members, is targeting the wholesale elimination of funding for:

• Department of Energy Grants to States for Weatherization, $530 million annually;

• EPA’s Energy Star Program, $52 million annually; and

• federal office space acquisitions (which have helped the government build a market for LEED-certified buildings), $864 million annually.

Just to be clear, in a bill seeking $2.5 TRILLION in cuts, these total savings would account for .14% of the savings.

  1. States and municipalities are strapped for cash--Like the Federal government, states and municipalities are strapped for cash, and may cut their green incentives to provide things like trash pick up and police.  
  2. Some programs are not worth the effort to apply--All programs require paperwork, verification and in some cases, prevailing wage rates.  Sometimes the benefit is not worth the hassle.  
  3. Some programs reward green bling rather than cost effective green improvements--Some programs reward the installation of renewable energy components or other "green bling" as opposed to better  insulation or new windows.  It is key to do a cost benefit analysis of any proposed green project to ensure that it has the greatest return on investment.

For more information, the DSIRE database of Federal and state renewable energy and energy efficiency programs is always useful, and be sure to check your state and local environmental departments and local utilities.

Part 2 of Green Finance--Alternative Financing Mechanisms For Green Projects

Because of the enormous popularity of last week's post on green project finance--Let's Make A Deal--Top 10 Rules Of Green Project Finance--I have decided to do a series on the various aspects of green project finance. 

Today we will discuss alternative financing mechanisms for green projects.  Over the next few weeks, I will do posts on incentives available for green projects, an update on the PACE controversy, and the basics of renewable energy finance.  If you have suggestions for other posts you would like to see as part of this series, feel free to email me. 

Please note, I am not a finance professional, and the goal of these posts is simply to give a high-level overview of potential financing mechanisms.  As with all financial decisions, please consult your financial professional and attorney for advice specific to your project.  And now, without further adieu, a primer on alternative green financing mechanisms.

Basically, there are only a few mechanisms for financing projects.  Self-finance (your bank account); equity finance (someone else's bank account); debt finance (the bank); government finance (Uncle Sam's bank account); and grant finance (your parents' third party bank accounts). 

These basic mechanisms are no different for green projects.  However, there are some interesting variants that have developed for financing green projects of various types. Many of the financing concepts are not mutually exclusive.  To the extent that one of the models, like energy efficient mortgages, is applicable mostly to a specific sector, it can be used as a model for a specific project's financing arrangement with a particular financier. 


For commercial scale (and even residential) green and renewable energy projects, variants on leases have become an interesting project financing model. Essentially, a provider leases the equipment (typically  to the owner of a facility through a long term lease), which reduces the up front costs.

There are a wide variety of leases available, and the decision among which lease is the best solution is largely based on tax and payment considerations.  Most leases radically reduce or eliminate up front costs.  Some leases allow the lessee to take advantage of the tax incentives, renewable energy credits and depreciation on the green equipment, others do not. 

For a great overview of lease variants for renewable energy projects, see here.

Performance Contracting

Performance contracting is essentially a loan from the provider of the green/renewable equipment (known as an Energy Services Company, or ESCO) that is paid for out of the savings or benefits of the green project.  For example, suppose you want to install energy efficient improvements on a facility which will cost $1000 and will save $100 per year.  Typically, the ESCO arranges the financing, and you pay the ESCO through reduced energy bills, sharing the energy cost savings over a predetermined length of time, after which all of the energy savings revert to you.  The ESCO often guarantees the energy savings from the project. This mechanism is used for both energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, and can be used with projects of almost any scale. The DOE has a handbook on performance contracting available here.

Grants In Lieu

 As part of the Stimulus bill, the Department of Treasury made available "1603 grants" which are grants in lieu of tax credits which reimburse up to 30% of the cost of installing certain renewable energy projects. Environmental Leader summarizes the 1603 grant program here:

The grant is 30 percent of the full cost of the intended solar system. Without the grant, system owners could still claim the 30 percent as a tax credit, but some businesses weren’t profitable enough to make use of the full tax credit. This grant now keeps all businesses eligible for the 30 percent incentive, not just those with enough profits (or those with financing partners with enough profits).

The full description of the program is available from the Department of Treasury.

 Energy-Efficient Mortgages And Energy Improvement Mortgages

A form of debt financing, energy efficient mortgages (and their friend, Energy Improvement Mortgages) work on the premise that implementing energy efficiencies on a property will free up cash which can pay down a debt.  The Department of Energy has a great handbook and other resources available here. HUD has qualifications guidelines, approved lenders, etc. available here. has a nice overview here:

Green, or “Energy efficient” mortgages, let you borrow extra money to pay for energy efficient upgrades to your current home or a new or old home that you plan to buy. The result is a more environmentally friendly living space that uses fewer resources for heating and cooling and has dramatically lower utility costs...At this time, Energy Efficient Mortgages aren’t second mortgages. Though they are created separately from your primary mortgage, they are ultimately rolled into your primary mortgage—so you only make only one payment per month.

Technically, energy efficient mortgages:

give borrowers the opportunity to finance cost-effective, energy-saving measures as part of a single mortgage and stretch debt-to-income qualifying ratios on loans thereby allowing borrowers to qualify for a larger loan amount and a better, more energy-efficient home.

And energy improvement mortgages:

are used for existing homes and allow borrowers to include the cost of energy-efficiency improvements in the mortgage without increasing the down payment.

The problem with energy efficient mortgages is that they are pretty small scale. For example, the FHA program only backs EEMs for one to four units.



Let's Make A Deal--Top 10 Rules Of Green Project Finance

The first step to any green building or renewable energy project of any size is finding the financing to make it possible.  Since the bottom fell out of the economy, finding investors and financial institutions willing to finance building projects of any sort has been close to impossible.  Real estate finance prognosticators, however, indicate that 2011 will be a year to buy back into the real estate market.   According to a Wells Fargo report:

In 2011, we expect trends in commercial and residential real estate, two areas of the economy that have been significant drags on headline growth, to turn positive for the first time since the beginning of the recession. Despite being near record lows, housing starts will begin to gain momentum breaking 700,000 in 2011. The turnaround in housing is largely attributable to gains in employment, consumer income, as well as favorable demographic trends. Meanwhile, from the financing perspective, mortgage rates remain low and housing affordability remains high. Though broadly positive, these trends do not reflect a return to the boom years, which were characterized by excessive liquidity and perverse incentives.

Commercial real estate should begin to contribute to growth by the second half of 2011. Operating fundamentals for all major property types are either improving or showing signs of stabilizing. Leasing has picked up, rents are rising or stabilizing and sales have increased. Demand for high quality properties in choice locations remains exceptionally strong, which has helped pull prices higher for non-distressed deals. There are still plenty of troubled projects that need to be disposed of, however, and prices for distressed projects are likely to fall further once lenders become committed to cleansing their portfolios.

Green projects are an increasing percentage of new and rehab projects, and renewable energy projects have very attractive balance sheets in certain areas.  However, structuring financing for green building and renewable energy projects requires more legal creativity and effort than financing other types of more traditional projects. 

Let me give you an example.  Banks have been loaning money to companies to buy equipment for hundreds of years.  Every bank has a set of documents designed for this purpose, and a specific set of rules and requirements for deciding when to take on the financing risk, and how repossession would work in the event of default. 

Let's say Company A wants to borrow money from Bank B to buy a truck.  Company A gives Bank B information on the value of the truck, the value of Company A's other assets, and so forth.  Bank B goes to its set of standard form documents for equipment loans, confirms Company A's credit worthiness, and knows that it can repossess the truck and sell it for some known value in the event of default. 

Now let's say Company A wants to borrow money from Bank B to finance a solar array.  First, Bank B has to figure out what, exactly, it is financing.  Is a solar array equipment, like the truck, or construction?  Then, what value can Bank A put on the solar array?  The value of the solar panels on the resale market? The value of the electricity the solar array produces? How about the renewable energy credits (Banker A says to Banker B, "What's a Renewable Energy Credit?") Then comes the issue about how to handle default.  The solar array is worth a lot more in situ than it is as scrap, but Bank B has to figure out how to structure the relationship with its now-defunct borrower which would allow Bank B to get the benefits of the electricity and the RECs. 

The same concept is true for green building projects.  When examining a green building deal, what value, if any, should Bank B put on the potential energy savings from a high performance building?  Will the high performance building command higher rents?  LEED Certified or not certified? What happens in the event of decertification?

 A few rules for green project finance:

  1. Find a bank or financial institution committed to green projects--Some banks now have financial arms that are dedicated to financing renewable projects.
  2. Pick a model--It's easier to tweak an existing project finance model than to create a new one from scratch.  Construction? Equipment? 
  3. Recognize the need for tweaks--Whatever the model (see #2), it will need to be tweaked for the unique features of green building and renewable projects.
  4. Set out the deal terms in advance, particularly the obligations of the parties in the event of default.
  5. Identify and address the roles of the lender and borrower with respect to any incentives or other government financing that is part of the project.  Each incentive has its own requirments regarding transferability and assignment, and ownership status is often an important factor.
  6. Make sure your green project pencils out--Seems simple and obvious, but when seeking financing, it is important that the project actually be a wise investment. 
  7. Provide as much data about the beneficial financial features of the green project as possible--The growing body of data about the financial benefits of green buildings and the balance sheets of renewable energy projects should enable borrowers and lenders to better evaluate the risks and benefits of green projects. 
  8. Where available, use green specific financing tools, like energy efficient mortgages.  A good primer is available here.
  9. Be prepared to cross-collateralize--There is so much risk aversion, that many financial institutions are seeks cross-collateralization of non-green projects to alleviate the fear, real or imagined, associated with financing green projects.  
  10. Acknowledge a longer financing timeline--Getting all parties on the same page regarding the financing deal and the documentation may take longer than traditional projects.  But, as lenders and borrowers get more projects under their belts, this timeline will shorten.

Green Is Good--Stimulus Shows More Green Funding Means More Jobs Per Public Dollar

I have been tracking the green stimulus spending since June 2009. In November 2009, actual dollars spent on green projects was $1.5 billion.  Now, in November 2010, dollars actually paid to date on green projects is approximately $11 billion.  It amounts to approximately 7% of contract spending from the Stimulus bill (which does not include tax benefits), and 2.6% of the total stimulus money paid to date. 

By agency, the spending on green breaks out as follows:

  Allocated Paid Out Unit % Paid
DOE 33.29 9.4 Billion 28.24%
Energy Efficiency/Renewable Energy 16.50 4 Billion 26.06%
EPA (9/30) 7.20 4 Billion 62.22%
GSA 6.10 1.42 Billion 23.28%
Green Buildings 5.50 1 Billion 18.18%
DOT 40.40 22.3 Billion 55.20%
High Speed Rail 3.00 1 Billion 33.33%
Total Agency 86.99 38 Billion 43.22%
Total Green 32.20 11 Billion 33.48%
Total Contract Spending 275.00 156.7 Billion 56.98%
Total Stimulus 787.00 403.4 Billion 51.26%
% Green of Contract Spending 11.71% 6.88%    
% Green of Total Stimulus 4.09% 2.67%    

[I used the same methodology as described in detail here. If you are a data geek like me, you can do your own number crunching at and the agency recovery sites who do weekly reporting in Excel on the allocation and spending of the Stimulus money.  There is a wealth of information available, and I welcome any input or different statistical or mathematical analyses from the Green Building Law Community.] 

At the initiation of the Stimulus, Obama touted the green components of the stimulus bill.  He has also been very positive on the prospect of green jobs. Opponents of the stimulus bill, and waning support of green initiatives and green jobs in general, has been on the rise.

So the question becomes: what is the value of the 3% of the Stimulus that went to green iniatives, and was the return on investment higher or lower than the other initiatives that were funded by the stimulus? The answer to the ROI question is "yes"-- Agencies tasked with green funding (DOE, EPA, GSA) hold 3 of the top 10 most efficient job creating agencies that were allocated stimulus funding:


  Stimulus Funds Paid Jobs Created Dollars Per Job
Department of Justice $2,013,343,173 16330.59 $123,286.62
National Science Foundation $817,277,981 5503.36 $148,505.27
Department of the Interior $1,545,986,174 10047.13 $153,873.41
Department of Education $66,652,472,918 341668.74 $195,079.22
Department of Energy $9,691,290,357 42262.17 $229,313.60
General Services Administration $1,493,185,840 5773.82 $258,613.16
Department of Housing and Urban Development $7,270,460,291 27640.01 $263,041.16
Department of Homeland Security $598,741,846 2137.91 $280,059.43
Environmental Protection Agency $4,608,982,170 16233.68 $283,914.81

  By contrast, the two departments which spent the most money, the Department of the Treasury (tax cuts) and the Social Security Administration only created 188 direct jobs.

Department of the Treasury $8,575,280,379 144.27 $59,439,109.86
Social Security Administration $13,727,406,290

It will be argued that the tax cuts, etc. indirectly created jobs by pumping more money into the economy.  But there is a direct way to measure the impact of a single green dollar.  To address this, I looked at the statistics for the GSA.  Unlike other agencies which allocate money through states to programs or disperse it to individual taxpayers, the GSA contracts directly with builders and other direct contract fund recipients to build or renovate federal buildings.

As of September 30, 2010, the GSA had saved or created 5773.82 jobs (how you have .82 of a job I can't say). The stat is here. The GSA was 16th in the agencies recieving funding, and the12th net job creating agency.  But on a job per dollar basis, the GSA the 6th most efficient job creating agency at $258,613.16 per job created.   

Do not fall into this statistical trap "$258k per job? We could have created five $50k jobs for that money!"  Remember, this dollars per job includes materials and costs of the jobs involved (bricks, mortar, etc.), which also have downstream job creating effects (brick makers, concrete haulers, etc.).

Tomorrow, I will post an interview I had at Greenbuild with Kevin Kampschroer, the Director of the Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings at GSA in which he gave insight not only into the GSA's experience with the Stimulus spending, but also on the long term impacts the Stimulus spending had on the operation of the GSA itself.