Three Takeaways on Solar Securitizations from Infocast Capital Markets Conference

Last week, we were invited to participate in the Infocast Solar Capital Markets Conference in New York City. The event was well attended by issuers, underwriters, lenders, and service providers with lots of great discussion about the current and future state of the solar capital markets. We distilled the discussion to three key takeaways from the conference:

 

  1. Bespoke Transactions: Five securitizations have been issued so far; the first two securitizations were Cash Grant deals, and thus did not have the complications of tax-equity. These were followed by two deals that utilized lease pass-through structures, and the latest deal by SolarCity was providing leverage to partnership-flip transactions. Since each structure has unique impacts on the cash flow profile, each deal had to be written nearly independently. The latest SolarCity deal even had multiple tax-recapture insurance policies that had to be customized for each of their underlying partnership-flip deals. In short, these deals took longer and cost more to underwrite than should be expected in the future of the industry. Participants agreed that a simpler capital stack without tax-equity should increase efficiency for future transactions. Securitizations can take 3x longer to close than bank financing in today’s market.
  2. Ratings Agency Perspectives: Each of the ratings agencies commented on how they addressed the lack of historic operating data. A few interesting themes emerged.
    1. First, a distinction was made between a customer’s ability to pay and their willingness to pay. While utility bills could be considered a proxy for ability to pay, it says nothing about the customer’s value proposition. Moody’s commented that there isn’t a proxy for willingness to pay for a solar transaction, and thus meeting the customer’s value proposition of saving money is critical.
    2. Second, while losses from other markets are used as a proxy, solar is unique in that the system is attached to the home. We are in a tight credit environment where only high-quality borrowers are qualifying for solar systems and mortgages. The agencies expect another (looser) credit cycle to reduce the credit requirements for new mortgages, and thus that the credit quality of these portfolios will decline dramatically; Kroll said that they double the loss rates of their proxy portfolios to account for this credit deterioration.
    3. Third, the agencies assume that renegotiations over the course of these transactions and believe that customers will be comparing their transaction against the lesser of prevailing utility rates and new PPA contracts in the future.
  3. Data Transparency Can Lead to Liquidity: It was generally agreed that two types of data can help unlock liquidity in the market. First, the industry just needs to continue operating and seeing how these deals perform; as 20-year contracts, there is an inherent lack of data that shows how consumers will behave over the life of the transaction. The second type of data related to the existing data that has been collected in the industry. The lenders into securitizations specifically indicated that greater data transparency would lead to better liquidity and reduced interest rates, and we are proud that they highlighted kWh Analytics as uniquely positioned to provide this service.

We are excited to see where the securitization market moves and other ways that we can support these transactions with reliable, granular industry benchmarking data. The cumulative solar ABS issued to date is only $660 million, while $180 billion of asset-backed securities were issued in just the last year. The capital markets are poised to grow as deal structures become simpler, solar loans increase in volume, and data is more readily available on how these transactions perform across the industry.

Renewable Energy Asset Management Conference

This week we were pleased to participate in Infocast’s Renewable Energy Asset Management Conference in Carlsbad, CA. Jason Kaminsky, our Vice President of Partnerships, moderated a panel entitled Ownership Strategies for the New Breed of Investors. The panelists included Ty Bowman of Prudential Capital Group, Bill Cannon of Sumitomo, Andrew Kim from Goldman Sachs, Lisa Ryder of KeyBanc Capital Markets, and Mark Williams of PNC Bank.

In what proved to be a rousing discussion, the participants discussed their roles and requirements as investors in renewable energy. A few highlights from the panel include:

  • All panelists agreed that compliance obligations are ratcheting up for investors, and that internal oversight requires timely, accurate, and consistent reports. Compliance comes from all sides, including senior management, internal audit, credit, the OCC, the Fed, etc. One panelist shared that when a partner delivers reports at “5pm on the last day of the quarter”, it makes her job more difficult and lowers the desire to work with those specific partners in the future.
  • Ty Bowman of Prudential reinforced the idea that transparency is critical to the investor-borrower relationship. The investor community wants to help solve problems together with their partners, and investors often have seen things in their other portfolios that can help address problems that a different client may be seeing. Open communication and data sharing are often mutually beneficial.
  • Andrew Kim of Goldman Sachs stated that he doesn’t like the phrase “passive investor” and views his role as one of “active oversight.” This phrase really resonated with us, as it highlights the obligation that investors have to stay close to their investments, even if they’re not the day-to-day managers. Active oversight is one step beyond trust-but-verify, with frequent portfolio surveillance and engagement in the operation of the portfolio.
  • A number of the investors from the utility-scale market shared that commercial and industrial DG scare them from an asset management perspective due to the quantity of projects and the difficulty of underwriting / monitoring performance. The panelists agreed that you need strategic partners for asset management as the quantity of assets in the portfolio grows.

We’d like to thank Infocast for inviting us to participate in the conference. Thanks as well to Mark Williams of PNC, who gave us a shout-out for helping PNC with their asset management obligations through our HelioStats software platform.