Demystifying Bank Asset Management with U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo, and kWh Analytics

Originally posted on Renewable Energy World.

Bank asset management is known to be an opaque subject. Thankfully, Diana Weis and Sarah Disch, each co-heads of the Solar Asset Management groups at their organizations, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo Bank respectively, shared their expertise at SAMNA 2019. They each have over a decade of experience in solar finance, and spoke with Jason Kaminsky, Chief Operating Officer at kWh Analytics and a former solar project finance banker himself. Here are three key takeaways bank asset management experts Weis, Disch, and Kaminsky shared:

1) Bank Asset Management is “Heavily Compliance-Focused”

Though both developers and financial institutions have employees in “Asset Management,” the respective functions are distinct.

For a developer, an asset manager’s main job function is to ensure the assets are operating optimally. The asset managers are often externally facing, working with the PPA offtakers, financiers and external O&M counterparties; handling insurance claims; and managing any other external stakeholders.

At a bank, however, a lot of the asset manager’s job responsibilities are focused on managing internal stakeholders. Not only is senior management of the solar team interested in asset health, but also groups ancillary to the renewables group who need information for their job function. “A majority of my role is not facing externally to the sponsor,” Sarah Disch explained. “It’s actually facing internally within the bank—for example, working with our accounting and finance teams, managing bank regulatory and finance requirements, or seeking approvals on communications. It’s heavily compliance-focused.”

For banks, asset management groups often help ensure the accounting books are in order, make sure the bank is complying with regulatory items like Anti-Money Laundering and Bank Secrecy Act laws, work with internal credit teams to enact asset downgrades when appropriate, and manage the process with internal auditors that come through every 12 to 18 months to ensure that the group is abiding by their own internal processes and protocols.

Diana Weis described her job as “being the spoke of a wheel” and project managing the solar project through the life of the investment, making sure everyone is informed about its health and fielding any internal questions that arise.

 

2) It’s All About the Data

Given this emphasis on compliance, even when assets are performing as expected, there is an entire ecosystem of stakeholders looking for data on how the fleet is performing. It is common practice for quarterly and annual reports to be generated and communicated internally, covering everything from the operating health of the assets to credit evaluations of the various vendors and counterparties in the deal. “It’s critical for us to get reports in a timely manner, because it’s a blocker for us to do our month-end reporting and close our books,” Disch noted.

Both panelists agreed that they evaluate actual production as compared to projected production, and that underperforming assets can be a cause for concern. They track performance closely, in part because of reporting requirements, but also due to the fact that they may have syndicated the deal to another tax equity investor or have part of their return reliant on the value of the asset at some future date.

They also agreed that asset management is a critical function within their organizations and they are often looked to as the experts on the portfolio.

Since the sponsors are actively managing the assets, at the end of the day, they will be the best informed to know what’s happening at the site. Weis probably summarized it best when she said that “a communicative sponsor is the best possible sponsor.”

 

3) The Future of Bank Asset Management

Due to the lack of consistency in solar data formats around the industry, tracking this data can be a challenge. As a result, leading investors have secured external tools to complement their strengths. “Many of our challenges are in getting our data to be consistent for our internal tracking, which is exacerbated by the fact that we work with so many different developer partners,” Weis commented. “In addition to independent engineers and lawyers, we rely on specialty tools such as the kWh Analytics HelioStats risk management platform to organize our data and measure our risk, which adds significant operating leverage to our team.” These systems consolidate data into dashboards for ease of managing the various internal requirements and requests that these asset management teams face.

There are other key efforts to help with data consistency, including the Department of Energy’s Orange Button Initiative, which offers open source data standards for the industry. Across geographies and foci of institutional investment, standardizing data allows for a reduction in soft costs—making it easier to share solar data and speed up processes, like financing.

#Solar100’s Dan Siegel: The Marie Kondo of Solar Tax Equity

Originally posted on pv magazine USA. In this #Solar100 Interview, Jason Kaminsky, COO of kWh Analytics, speaks with Dan Siegel, vice president of Renewable Energy Business Development at U.S. Bank.

What Marie Kondo does for tidying up, Dan Siegel does for solar tax structuring: everything in its place and a place for everything.

As vice president of Renewable Energy Business Development at U.S. Bank, Dan Siegel is an expert of tax law and highlights the order, logic, and understated (if not life-changing) magic of solar tax equity done well.

In this interview, Siegel discusses 2019 solar financing trends, the importance of solar data, and “Zen and the Art of Tax Equity Structuring.”

ZEN AND THE ART OF TAX STRUCTURING

Jason Kaminsky: Thanks for making time to chat, Dan.

Dan Siegel: Sure. I’ll try to bring out the most interesting version of myself for this. I’m a tax equity provider, so keep that in mind.

Jason Kaminsky: [laughs] Well, I’m a former tax equity banker. We’ll both try not to go down the technical rabbit hole.

To start, you have an LL.M. in tax, then did project management at U.S. Bank for five years before moving into Business Development. How did you begin working at U.S. Bank and later move into the role that you are in today?

Dan Siegel: I graduated from Washington University in St. Louis for undergrad, and like many who finish college without a lot of forethought into what they want to do with their life, I ended up enrolling in law school. Frankly, I didn’t love it. I initially envisioned myself as a litigator, but then quickly realized that I’m not really the kind of person who would be very good at arguing both sides of an issue. I’m more black and white than that.

I ended up taking a year off from law school to work for the Kerry campaign and bartend, both of which were humbling experiences in their own way. After that year, I came back and took a taxation course, which unexpectedly resonated with me. I’ve always been a numbers person and I think that’s one area of the law where having that type of mind is helpful. Something that is sort of geeky about tax law that I have always appreciated: it comes with a set of instructions. You have tax law, and then you have the regulations that accompany it. That’s how I ended up pursuing my LL.M. in taxation.

While I enjoyed the subject of tax law, I realized that I didn’t really want to be moving people’s money from one place to another. Thankfully, I learned that there was a field called ‘tax equity financing’ and that one of the largest financers in the country is based here, in St. Louis. There was something very appealing about using tax law and getting a brick-and-mortar result out of it. To this day, I may be the only person ever to come out of school knowing I wanted to be a tax equity provider.

Jason Kaminsky: It’s funny—I studied pure math as an undergrad. And similarly, there’s a strict set of rules that helps you come to a conclusion. And, in some ways, tax law—even though the rules seem even more arcane—has a similar set of principles.

Dan Siegel: Absolutely. I think the real interest in tax equity is knowing that you have a rule set. Trying to pair what can be a regimented rule set to the commercial goals, knowing there’s a line, not wanting to get too close, and yet still wanting to achieve a desired result, is where I think the creativity comes in. That’s what has always been really appealing to me about this industry—using those arcane principles to try to achieve positive commercial results for the industry.

Jason Kaminsky: It’s more creative than outsiders might realize. It’s kind of like “Zen and the Art of Tax Equity Structuring.”

 

2019 TRENDS IN SOLAR FINANCE

Jason Kaminsky: We just got back from Infocast last month. What themes are you seeing for 2019?

Dan Siegel: Every year since we started in 2008, people seem to say, “This is the year when nothing’s going to happen.” But every year we’re wrong as something always seems to come up. It’s interesting to see what’s already been happening this year.

A few big things that we’re watching this year so far:

First, the continued development of community solar gardens. As a tax equity provider with a mission-oriented bent, these types of programs appeal to us and we are always interested in exploring new ways to participate in markets as they develop. We’re seeing a good deal of investment opportunity and feel that will continue to accelerate.

Second, I think that this is the year storage finally starts gaining traction in large-scale commercial application. There’s going to be a series of unknowns that we’re going to work through, with everything from the specific technological complexities of the storage components, to making sure that we are being thoughtful about which storage providers and accompanying software applications that are used. The underwriting of those uses will be supremely important, as will the resulting revenue streams that I think people are only just now starting to imagine.

Third, we are also already starting to see a bit of pull-in resulting from the ITC step down. It will be interesting to see how far out financiers will be willing to commit to give solar developers comfort around their safe-harboring plans.

Jason Kaminsky: Six years ago I was at a conference where people said, “It feels like we’ve been pushing a boulder up a big hill, and it’s about to start rolling down,” and I feel like I could say the same thing this year. Eventually we’ll be right.

A theme that I’d say probably emerged more last year but continued for this year: secondary market transaction of operating assets. I’m sure your team is seeing these as a tax equity investor in many of those deals.

Dan Siegel: We’re seeing a lot of more passive financial cash equity players coming in to buy these assets. There’s been a lot of low-cost foreign money moving in and acquiring these transactions. That’s something that we’ve needed to get accustomed to as we more and more find ourselves facing financial counterparts as equity and indemnity provider in these transactions rather than the original developer.

Jason Kaminsky: As you think back over the last 10 years as a baseline, how do you characterize the tax equity market?

Dan Siegel: It’s funny, I don’t think that there’s only one tax equity market. I think that there are multiple tax equity markets, and people work in different layers of those markets. U.S. Bank is the fifth largest commercial bank, with around $460 billion in assets. As a result, while we do a lot, our tax capacity is eclipsed by the fourth largest bank and up. There are the very, very large players out there who will always be able to provide a deep well of tax equity financing to their large corporate clients, but that is probably never going to be an area that we regularly play in. Given that our capital is more limited we try to be incredibly thoughtful about which developers and which markets we serve.

One thing to note, is that the DNA of our group is not project finance; it’s not even energy, really. It’s more broadly tax equity financing. Our renewable energy group sits within a subsidiary of the bank that has a broad background in financing all types of projects with tax credits from low income housing, to historic buildings, to incentivizing job creation in economically disadvantaged markets. But this background speaks to why we work with a broad array of developers today—we want to maximize impact even if it means more work.

We’re never really out there hunting elephant-sized transactions. It’s always more about: Does the underlying business model make sense? Can we mitigate the risks? Do we like the people? Do we believe in their business model? If the answer is yes across those questions, we tend to pursue it. That’s allowed us to be early in residential and to be the first movers in community solar. We certainly participate in the utility sale side too, but we’re not trying to do four transactions and be done with our year.

Jason Kaminsky: I’m always fascinated by how different banks get into the market, and U.S. Bank came from a tax perspective, versus other banks like Wells Fargo which really came at it from, “Hey, we have an environmental commitment but how can we meet it?” They’ve migrated to the utility-scale side of the market, but your team is placing a lot more bets and works with a much broader, more diverse set of customers.

Dan Siegel: I think not having a traditional energy background can be freeing in a lot of ways, because we don’t come in with preconceived notions about what can and can’t work. Through the lens of the tax equity risks on which we need to focus, that has allowed us to be supportive of a couple of different industries that, for maybe issues of internal resource constraint or just internal bias, have been passed over by other banks.

 

UNLOCKING OPPORTUNITIES

Jason Kaminsky: We work closely with your team, and I would say U.S. Bank probably has the largest tax equity group of any bank I know—and the largest number of customers of any bank I know. Can you talk about some of the benefits and challenges that come with that?

Dan Siegel: Sure. We started in 2008, and today we have financed  about 11 GW of solar.

When we first started, it was basically me and my boss, Darren Van’t Hof, who had just  started looking at solar.

The group has grown a lot since then. We have four people on the origination side, which is where I sit. We have about 10 people on the project management side, about 10 people on the asset management side. And then we have a lot of cross-functional people supporting us. We are set up to do a lot of volume; I think our goal in a typical year is to do somewhere between 30 to 50 different transactions. That includes everything from relatively large transactions like 150 MW facilities in the U.S. southwest, to projects as small as 5 or 10 MW. Like any bank, we have origination goals so small transactions are often not the most efficient use of our time. That said, if there’s a good story there and a potential for positive impact on jobs, the environment, etc., we will oftentimes spend time on it, particularly if we think that that small model is scalable.

Jason Kaminsky: A lot of banks have tried to create a syndications strategy, where they bring in other co-investors, but U.S. Bank has been uniquely successful. How did you unlock this opportunity?

Dan Siegel: We have a lot of smart folks working on this, so I’ll speak for them when I say that I think there are three things that helped to differentiate us:

One, it was a source of need. Even without tax reform, we saw a day in the future where our partners needs were going to outstrip our own capacity.

Two, we’re a relatively flat organization—the CEO of our subsidiary reports directly to the CFO of the bank. As a result, when we’re talking to new co-investors, we appreciate the barriers to entry and are often able to bring the right people into those conversations who have understood and managed those issues previously.

Three, we can provide a differentiating syndication product by giving certainty to our customers; we fully commit to a transaction, even if we’re trying to syndicate it. For example, if we’re working with a developer who has a project, we will 100% underwrite the project during construction and we’ll make a finance commitment for the full project. During construction, we may try to remarket part of that interest to one of our syndication partners, but if that fails we’ll still fund it. We’re taking that risk away from the developer, which makes them a lot more willing to go with us.

As of today, we’ve brought in 19 different investors and raised over a billion dollars of tax equity. Most of our partners on the syndication side are non-traditional tax equity investors. There are some regional banks, but they’re typically not financial institutions. Most of our partners are retail, tech companies, insurance companies — people who don’t themselves have a tax equity practice and don’t plan to develop that capacity internally.

Jason Kaminsky: What’s your view when the ITC steps down on the role of tax equity in the market? Are there other products that you might develop?

Dan Siegel: That’s certainly the long-term goal, and it’s been something that we’ve been chipping away at for years. We’re not an infrastructure bank or a project finance bank, so the idea of doing project finance debt is a bit foreign in our institution. U.S. Bank is a conservative institution and sometimes, that also means that we move slowly and methodically towards new products. That said, we’d like to start doing lending soon and see it as fundamental to our growth and position in the marketplace. And then as we transition to a 10% ITC market, we would operate as a “lender-plus” and would be able to couple the loan with a tax equity investment.

Jason Kaminsky: When we track the debt markets in our Solar Lendscape, I think now we’re up to 50 banks in the market, and a lot of them are falling over themselves on margin. So, if you can provide a product that is coupled with a 10 percent ITC, I would imagine that that would be a pretty strong competitive advantage in that segment of the market.

Dan Siegel: We’re never going to be the cheapest, but I think what we try to do is be creative and we can hopefully create a niche for ourselves there.

 

THE LARGEST U.S. SOLAR INVESTOR ON THE IMPORTANCE OF DATA

Jason Kaminsky: You are now one of the largest—if not the largest—investors in solar in the country. What have you learned along the way?

Dan Siegel: We have an enormous amount of data about how assets are operating, and through our use of HelioStats, we’re working to get more thoughtful about how to synthesize and analyze information about our own portfolio. We are getting better at using our data to manage our portfolio: there’s lots of compliance and reporting we face as a regulated bank.

Our sponsors play an important role here— by helping us collect the data on our portfolio, sponsors contribute pieces to a broader story. Even if that information is not a direct issue or risk for us, we recognize that we have information that is crucial for the industry, so the question becomes: How do we take what we know and help the industry more broadly?

We also use the data to tell a story, and I’m part of a working group right now helping to summarize our data for U.S. Bank’s broader environmental communications efforts.

It’s funny—we started our tax equity investing as really just a pure tax equity investment play, with the projects’ environmental impacts being secondary. That’s changing. We’ve made a great deal of impact in the past 10 years and though it may run counter to the group’s midwestern sensibilities, we ought to tell the story and perhaps even be a little boastful about it.

kWh Analytics Closes Solar Revenue Put for 28 MW of Solar Power Projects With AES Distributed Energy, SVB, & Swiss Re Corporate Solutions

Originally posted on Renewable Energy World, SolarWakeup, pv magazine USA, Reinsurance News, New York Times, Nasdaq, MarketWatch, Seeking Alpha, & BusinessWire.

kWh Analytics, the market leader in solar risk management, today announced the first refinancing supported by the Solar Revenue Put. The portfolio of 41 projects totaling approximately 28 MW DC of capacity is located in Arizona and Massachusetts. The facilities are managed by AES Distributed Energy (DE), a subsidiary of The AES Corporation (AES). The AES Distributed Energy portfolio is being funded by Silicon Valley Bank and a Japanese financial services company. Swiss Re Corporate Solutions, a leading global corporate insurer, is providing capacity for the Solar Revenue Put.

The Solar Revenue Put is structured as an insurance policy on solar production and revenues, which serves as a credit enhancement for financial investors. Using its proprietary actuarial model and risk management software (“HelioStats”), kWh Analytics developed the Solar Revenue Put to drive down investment risk and encourage development of clean, low-cost solar energy.

“AES Distributed Energy is focused on helping our customers affordably and reliably meet their sustainable energy needs, and strategically-timed refinancings enable us to re-deploy capital to build more clean energy projects,” says Brian Cassutt, Chief Financial Officer at AES Distributed Energy. “The Solar Revenue Put will help sharpen our competitive edge by enhancing our returns and reducing our downside risk.”

“We’re pleased to continue our support of AES Distributed Energy as they deploy innovative distributed solar and energy storage projects,” says Bret Turner, Managing Director and Market Manager of Project Finance at Silicon Valley Bank. “The strong collaboration between SVB, the Japanese financial services company, and kWh Analytics enabled us to deliver a transformational financing for AES DE and the market.”

A recent survey of the solar industry’s most active lenders indicates that more than 40% of active lenders value the Solar Revenue Put as a credit enhancement. Solar portfolios ranging from thousands of residential rooftops to more than ten utility-scale plants have utilized financing structures supported by the Solar Revenue Put. Portfolios supported by the Solar Revenue Put are securing debt sizing increases of 10% on average.

Learn More about us: kwhanalytics.com & kwhanalytics.com/SolarRevenuePut

About the Solar Revenue Put

The Solar Revenue Put is a credit enhancement that guarantees up to 95% of a solar project’s expected energy output. kWh Analytics’ wholly-owned brokerage subsidiary places the policy with risk capacity rated investment-grade by Standard and Poor’s. As an ‘all-risk’ policy, the Solar Revenue Put protects against shortfalls in irradiance, panel failure, inverter failure, snow, and other system design flaws. The Solar Revenue Put provides comprehensive coverage that banks rely upon, enabling financial institutions to more easily finance solar projects on terms more favorable to the sponsor.

About kWh Analytics

kWh Analytics is the market leader in solar risk management. By leveraging the most comprehensive performance database of solar projects in the United States (20% of the U.S. market) and the strength of the global insurance markets, kWh Analytics’ customers are able to minimize risk and increase equity returns of their projects or portfolios. kWh Analytics also provides HelioStats risk management software to leading project finance investors in the solar market. kWh Analytics is backed by private venture capital and the US Department of Energy.

About Silicon Valley Bank

For 35 years, Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) has helped innovative companies and their investors move bold ideas forward, fast. SVB provides targeted financial services and expertise through its offices in innovation centers around the world. With commercial, international and private banking services, SVB helps address the unique needs of innovators. Learn more at svb.com.

About AES Distributed Energy

AES Distributed Energy (AES DE) is a wholly owned subsidiary of The AES Corporation, a Fortune 500 and publicly traded international energy company. Our daily mission at AES DE is to bring reliable and cost-effective distributed energy systems to utilities, municipalities, corporations, schools, and commercial and industrial customers. AES DE’s proven project development, financing, and operating experience empowers energy consumers to benefit from the distributed energy solutions we deliver. Learn more at aesdistributedenergy.com

About Swiss Re Corporate Solutions

Swiss Re Corporate Solutions is a global provider of risk transfer solutions including insurance and non-insurance products. The Solar Revenue Put is an insurance policy issued by a Swiss Re Corporate Solutions insurance carrier that is appropriately licensed and in some jurisdictions the Solar Revenue Put may only be available through a licensed surplus lines insurance broker.