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Episode 72: Opportunities for the Next Decade

This week’s episode was produced in collaboration with the New England Clean Energy Council (NECEC). The second Navigate program webinar of 2020, “Opportunities for the Next Decade”, was made possible with support from NYSERDA. Navigate is a program under the Northeast Clean Energy Council that leverages its power to provide resources and support for clean energy startups.

Host Jon Powers leads a discussion with four panelists: Jason Kaplan of PowerMarket, Noah C. Shaw of Hodgson Russ LLP, Doran Hole of Ameresco, and Zoe Berkery of CleanCapital. Listen to hear expert opinions on the future of the renewable energy industry and what experts see on the horizon for the next decade. 

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Transcript

Jon Powers:

Welcome to Experts Only podcast, sponsored by Clean Capital. You can learn more at cleancapital.com. I’m your host Jon Powers. Each week we explore the intersection of energy, innovation, and finance with leaders across the industry. Thank you so much for joining us.

Jon Powers:

Hey, this is Jon Powers and welcome back to Experts Only. Today we have our second episode in a partnership with the New England Clean Energy Council and their navigate webinar. We have a really fascinating conversation about the renewable energy industry and the opportunities over the next decade. We’ve got a phenomenal panel, include Doran Hole, who’s a senior vice president and chief financial officer of Ameresco, Noah Shaw, who;s partner and co-chair of the Renewable Energy Practice at Hodgson Russ based in New York. Zoe Berkery, who’s the vice president of assets here at Clean Capital and Jason Kaplan, who’s the chief operating officer for Power Market Solutions. Hope you enjoy the conversation, really focusing on how we’re going to get to help solve our climate crisis over the next 10 years.

Caterina Marida:

Hello everybody. And welcome to the second webinar of the Navigate Webinar Series from the Northeast Clean Energy Council in collaboration with Clean Capital. Thank you Jon, for being with us today and moderating this session dedicated to renewable energy. My name is Caterina Marida, and I run Navigate. This webinar series has the unvaluable support from all Navigate sponsors, such as the state agency NYSERDA who works to advance energy innovation, technology, and investment in New York State. Thank you so much for your support. Before passing the word to Jon, I’d like to kindly remind you to stay on mute, to avoid any sound problems. Please feel free to use the Q&A feature or questions, feature on Go To Webinar to send questions. And I’d like to advise you as well, that at the end of the session, we’ll receive a very short survey. Thank you for completing it and sharing your feedback with us and Tweet with us throughout the webinar using the hashtag NCC Live and the handle Clean Capital underscore and now it is my pleasure to hand over to Jon Powers and Clean Capital co-founder and president. Thank you.

Jon Powers:

Yeah. Thank you so much, Caterina. Thank you everyone for joining us today. This webinar today is also going to be recorded as part of the Expert Only Podcast, which focuses on the intersection of energy, innovation, and finance. Really excited today with the topic of renewable energy opportunities for the next decade. Our webinar will focus on the future of renewable energy, highlighting technological advancements, innovation opportunities, policy changes, other things that are going to really catalyze the growth and continue to sort of transform our energy sources.

Jon Powers:

What I really want to do is explore the future of what the next decade looks like, but also step back and look at the last decade and look at the just incredible growth we’ve had. And we’re lucky to have amazing panelists who have deep expertise and are working for really incredible companies working to change the face of our energy picture here in the United States.

Jon Powers:

The last decade was remarkable. It was game changing. 10 years for the renewable energy industry, it went from it being a nascent alternative energy to a mainstream energy in many areas, the cheapest cost of power. The US has twice the renewable power generating capacity today compared to a decade ago. And for instance, there’s 80 times more solar capacity online today than at the start of the last decade.

Jon Powers:

Many of us do this because we want to help address the climate crisis. And some numbers are really show the progress we’re making. Coal went from meeting 45% of the US demand in 2010 to just over 20%, 23% in 2019. The carbon intensity, the power sector continues to decline. The last decade it fell over nearly 25%. We still have a ton of work to do. And I do want to look forward at the future here, but I do want to step back with our guests and look back, have them have a little bit of work they’ve done in the industry and how they sort of see the growth of the space. So I’m going to first start with Doran Hole, who is the senior vice president and chief financial officer at Ameresco. Doran, you’ve got a deep history in the industry. You’re now working for one of the most respected public firms in the space. Can you talk first talk a little bit about your background and how have you seen the industry change in the last 10 years?

Doran Hole:

Sure thing. Thank you, Jon. Thanks for having me and thanks everybody for joining. So my interest in the renewable energy industry started probably right around 10 years ago. In 2010, I was working for Deutsche Bank. We were starting to pitch debt service and tax equity with respect to large utility scale projects. And I do recall one opportunity in particular that Sun Power was pushing at the time in Southern California as being kind of what kicked it off. And from there, I just became fascinated with the potential for deployment in, especially in the solar space, seeing Sun Power, seeing Sun Edison, seeing Sunrun, Vivint, all these residential solar companies, solar cities start to proliferate, structured credit techniques that we were working on such as securitization and realizing that there was a tremendous amount of potential for cleaning the basically cleaning the grid.

Doran Hole:

And so in up 2015, I decided to step out of the banking industry and move directly into industry. So I spent a few years working directly in solar on the development side. That was all both in the kind of CFO role, as well as a CEO role. Most recently at in North America. Joined Ameresco about one year ago and saw there an opportunity to really see a company that was a leader in energy efficiency and quickly expanding in renewable energy, across a number of technologies, not just solar, but also combined heat and power, renewable natural gas, and within the energy efficiency space, seeing it deploy technologies as an independent integrator into any number of basic energy efficiency measures, boilers, chillers, HVAC systems, all the way to LED lighting controls, micro grids, battery storage, solar, taking this energy efficiency concept and using the financial that have been enabled, especially energy savings, performance, contracting energy savings agreements to help kind of really expand and help customers offset their carbon footprint and save money.

Doran Hole:

Ameresco itself is leading energy efficiency solutions provider, probably 1,000 plus employees. We’re, we’re spread across the country in 70 plus offices operating in the IS and Canada and the UK and peripherally in a couple of other places in Europe. We’re tracking carbon footprint with over 11 million metric tons of CO2 in 2019. I think across our projects and our projects that we’re installing on behalf of customers, as well as the energy assets that we own, we’re owning and operating approximately 250 megawatts worth of plants. So that’s a mixture of landfill gas, landfill gas going direct use, landfill gas going into electricity, solar, little bit of battery storage standalone, as well as a good bit of renewable natural gas. So very exciting time for the company as we see the market opportunity growing across all of the advanced technologies, smart buildings, again, more demand and potential expansion in renewable natural gas, and then the battery storage and micro grid opportunity, the resiliency opportunities are quite strong.

Jon Powers:

Fascinating, look forward to talking more about sort of the next phase of that. And I want to go next to Noah Shaw. Noah’s a partner and co-chair of the Renewable Energy Practice at Hodgson Russ based here in New York. But Noah and I have long track record. We’ve both worked in the Obama administration and Noah later went to serve in the Cuomo administration. Noah, you’ve seen the good that the government can do in this space, helping to capitalize the market and really helping it grow. Talk a little bit about your experience in the public policy space and sort of the role of sort of policy over the last 10 years to help the market grow.

Noah Shaw:

Thanks, Jon, and thanks for the invitation to be here. And it’s great to talk to everybody. When I joined the Obama administration in 2012, I actually joined the Department of Energy because I had a, well in part, because I had a background in government investigations and there was a little company called Solarendra that was having some problems in California and a couple others. And I came from which many of you are, I’m sure, well familiar with, but over time, especially after I got to know Richard Kaufman reasonably well, who was senior advisor to the Secretary for Finance, I started to move into more of the actual implementation work, working with the loan programs office, working with the office of energy efficiency and renewable energy, working with the domestic policy council and CQ, and to put together the climate action. When I think Jon, you and I ended up in conference rooms in ELB few time together on that, and it became very clear to me that this was a train that was on tracks, that people really couldn’t even fathom the potential of.

Noah Shaw:

So when I got the opportunity to come up to NYSERDA and be general counsel where I was general counsel from 2014 through last year, I actually walked out the door just as the governor was signing the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which is sort of the signature climate law for New York State.

Jon Powers:

Just dropping the mic and walking out the door.

Noah Shaw:

I had, my role was the lawyer role, but it was a great time to leave. And you could over the course of that period of time, the trajectory and the cost declines and the technology advances and the business model maturation that you saw, frankly, outstripped anything that anybody could have predicted. And in particular, you look at the cost curves related to offshore wind, or you look at where utility scale solar is, and what’s happened with utility scale solar, even in a place like New York over the course of the last couple or three years, I think it puts a lens on what’s going to happen in the next decade, sort of in a place where the unpredictability should be welcome.

Noah Shaw:

I mean, as we were writing the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act and talking about 85% greenhouse gas reduction by middle of the century and 100%t clean energy in New York state by 2040, there were a lot of naysayers out there who said, “That’s not feasible. How could you possibly write something into law that, where the technology just doesn’t get us there right now?” And I think the answer to that is unless you put those markers down and unless you have faith in the advancement of technology, which we shouldn’t have faith in, because it’s exceeded our expectations year over year, every year for the last 10 or 15 years, you’re not making good policy. So what I see coming up and what we at Hodgson Russ do, Hodgson Russ is a New York based firm, but we also have offices in Toronto and down in Florida and Albany and New York City, I’m sitting in Saratoga Springs right now.

Jon Powers:

Buffalo.

Noah Shaw:

Buffalo. Yep. The flagship.

Jon Powers:

Center of the universe. Yeah.

Noah Shaw:

We represent a broad spectrum of both government and developers and investors looking to acquire, looking to build, looking to understand the regulatory framework within various different markets, bulk storage, distributed solar utility scale solar, onshore wind, offshore wind. In fact, I’m happy to say, be able to say today that we were just engaged by the state of Maryland to help them update their regulatory structure for their offshore wind program to get to their goals, their recent legislation, the Clean Energy Jobs Act in Maryland from last year. So we’re across the spectrum. We’ve got a great team that’s dedicated solely to renewable energy plus regulatory and transactional issues. Plus all the folks who support us in the real estate shop and the environmental shop and the litigation shop when that is needed, because building a project, as everybody knows, is a multifaceted exercise.

Noah Shaw:

So throughout that you sort of get this, the aperture of the perspective of this kinds of technologies that are needed and which ones are headed in which directions is becoming more clear and less clear all at the same time, right? We know which models really work now, but we also know which technologies aren’t quite mature enough. Let’s say long duration storage. Let’s say a lot of grid tech and transmission technology, certain floating offshore wind. Those are the sorts of technologies that as they mature are going to open up whole new markets and whole new sets of sort of opportunities over the course of not only the 2020s, but also frankly, the 2030s, because a lot of our view for a lot of the progressive states goals is more 2040, right?

Jon Powers:

Yeah. I mean, one of the reason I wanted to focus on this next decade, because I think because the goals are 2040, 2050, whether it be some of the progressive states or you have some states going 100% renewables in those windows, we won’t get there unless we chop wood here the next 10 years and continue to sort of scale at the rate we’re doing it. I want, I want to go sort of our next panelist and look back at the last 10 years. And so the next 10 years for a second about really opportunity in this space, Zoe and I have been working together for a long time. Noah, when I was at the White House, Zoe actually interned for me at CEQ before going on and creating an incredible career and becoming part of Clean Capital later.

Jon Powers:

First of all, Zoe’s a VP of asset management here for the team of Clean Capital. You’re an emerging leader in the industry, but you’ve been in the policy space, now the sort of the finance space, now you’re managing almost 200 megawatts of distributed energy systems. How have things changed for folks looking to get into the industry, starting looking back to where you were coming out of college to an internship. Did you ever imagine sort of what this space could look like today? And then what advice do you give folks looking to get into sort of the next iteration of the industry?

Zoe Berkery:

Yeah, thanks Jon. So I think it’s interesting and this will come as no surprise to folks that in 2012 and I was working at CEQ under the Obama administration, it was just a very different landscape when it came to policy and the support that the global industry and clean energy as a whole was receiving. At CEQ we were looking on working on a whole host of executive orders and the cafe standards that were so impactful. After CEQ I worked at the Business Council For Sustainable Energy. That was almost, during my tenure there was almost solely focused on the Clean Power Plan and the Paris Agreement, neither of which are in play any longer in this country. But what’s interesting is that, well policy is so incredibly important. I think the markets in the private sector have really spoken on this and they haven’t really skipped a beat. Larry Finke at BlackRock’s letter at the beginning of this year, stating that he sees the climate crisis as reshaping finances as we know it and continuing to do so for the foreseeable future, I think can sort of sums it up very well. I think Clean Capital has also kind of was started on that with that mission of bringing more investments into the cleaner reduced space at large.

Zoe Berkery:

So as Jon mentioned, I’m involved, the New York chapter leader for RISE, which is the renewable, Women in Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy group, as well as involved with CELI the Clean Energy Leadership Institute. So I’m sort of constantly having conversations with young professionals looking to get into this space. And it’s interesting that even just 10 years ago, I think folks are thinking about it in such a more holistic lens. I think policy innovation, technology, finance are all part of school programs now, whereas it used to just be policy or you were in engineering or you were in finance. And I think where all of those are coming together is just incredibly impactful for the industry and I think we’ll see that shaping in the coming years.

Zoe Berkery:

I’ll also add, I think there is, especially given the current events going on, I think there’s going to be a larger push to increase diversity in the energy and finance industries and clean energy finance as well. Where those overlap, I think we could have an entire series of webinars on the benefits that will bring to the industry as well. And I think young folks are really thinking about that and that climate change isn’t just about climate change, there’s environmental justice aspects as well that I think folks getting into the industry are more focused on than previous. So I think we’ll see that kind of being a larger part of the conversation as well.

Zoe Berkery:

And I’ll add, I think now there is a whole new set of challenges for the industry. We have an aging renewables fleet where we’re seeing conversations about repowering popping up left and right, that wasn’t really a conversation a few years ago. Clean Capital now has as Jon mentioned over 500 million in assets under management, 184 megawatts across 124 projects. And we’re thinking very critically on how we get the most out of those facilities and how we can I guess, also harness better technologies going forward and increase efficiency along the way.

Jon Powers:

Excellent. Thank you. And we’ll dive more into that in a little bit. And then finally, Jason. Jason Caplan’s a chief operating officer for Power Market Solutions, but Jason, you’ve got a sort of an immense background in this space and decided to go into one of the most exciting sort of emerging markets, we’ll hear around community solar. Before diving into power markets and community solar, can you talk a little bit about your background and sort of why you decided to enter the fray of the community solar space.

Jason Caplan:

Thanks, Jon. And thanks for everybody for joining. Yeah. My road to power markets, definitely a windy one. I really kind of wanted to be in this industry really because my background, I graduated from Vermont Law School and with a degree in environmental law and policy and I wanted to affect change, right? I came out sort of bright eyes in 2008, 2009 and there was no opportunity for young lawyers to do that, affect change. Fortunately, I landed in a law firm that was doing some environmental law, but it was really around kind of super fund litigation for those who are not familiar with super fund litigation, essentially I was helping a client for who should for the contaminated property. Really these things can go on for years, and that was not kind a change that I was hoping to affect. And I really wanted to push my career into renewable because really that’s where I felt like the development of these clean energy assets would be of greatest benefit to us as a society and to really kind of clean our grid.

Jason Caplan:

I found my way to a small startup company called United Wind, which we were developing small wind energy turbines really up in upstate New York. And I really got trial by fire working for developer really in kind of a nascent technology. One that, frankly, distributed wind is sort of, I would say the redheaded stepchild of the renewable energy industry. But nevertheless, we were able to secure financing with the New York green bank with developing over 100 small wind turbines across upstate New York. And again, I got that experience that I’d never had before in understanding the risks and challenges there is in developing renewable energy assets in New York, but certainly broadly. I came to Power Market really through a connection I made through the Clean Start program, which is a program that is an NYU certificate program in renewable energy, but also facilitated, sponsored through the Urban Future Lab, which I also have to give many props to the Urban Future Lab.

Jason Caplan:

Pat Sapinsley, their executive director and Joe Silver and Jiro and the team there, frankly, they have enabled the growth of clean energy in the state through the incubation of some of the most prominent clean energy startups. I love working in the clean energy, the clean tech, the clean startup world. My wife might disagree in terms of the high risk, high reward elements to it. But fortunately I found my way to Power Market really through those connections. The Urban Future Lab is sponsored from NYSERDA and National Grid and they do a tremendous job there to support these young, clean energy companies that are coming to help solve some of the biggest challenges. And so certainly anyone who on this call or the webinar, who’s a young clean energy entrepreneur and maybe one person or a team of three or so and want to kind of get the support and kind of be a part of a community, certainly look at their Urban Future Lab and feel free to connect me after this to give you some intros there as well.

Jason Caplan:

But frankly, through that, they’ve helped Power Market was a resident of the Urban Future Lab for, I think now four, well it was four years, maybe five years. They’ve been a little longer than typically companies are, but we just loved working there because everybody was fantastic and supported us. Power Market as a company, we are a turnkey servicer of community solar projects throughout the country, wherever really community solar exists. We provide services of the subscriber, acquisition, education, enrollment, billing, and support for those who are developing and owning community solar assets, whether that be third party developers, energy retailers, and even utilities. Some of earliest clients at Power Market, and this is going five years, we’ve been part of this industry, the likes of Rocky Mountain Power in Detroit Edison, that we’re building out regulated utility markets, a product to offer community solar to their customers.

Jason Caplan:

No doubt over the last three or so years, the market has really been driven by third party developers, independent developers of these assets for which we’re working very closely with, the most prominent really in the state of New York and broadly. Right now we’re working in nine states, we’ve got 150 megawatts of community solar under management. And just last year we provided kind of over $3 million worth of billing to solar subscribers through our portfolio. And it’s no doubt a market as you kind of indicated, Jon, that is really in its infancy, but it’s really on the precipice of explosion and really looking forward to talking more about the work that we do at Power Market and really the community solar market generally.

Jon Powers:

Yeah. I mean, community solar is a great example of something, I think when, if you went back and interviewed someone in 2010, wasn’t even on people’s radars as an idea, and it could be really a game changer in here in the next decade. I’m going to use that to sort of transition into the … There’s a series of rounds of questions for the audience. First, I’m going to talk a little bit about policy and then sort of corporate demand and demand that’s been changing out there and a couple other sort of key topics. If you have questions, please put them into the question feed and we’ll get to them as we go, but I’m going to keep the mic as a moderator here in the beginning and sort of dive into the first round, which I do want to focus on policy.

Jon Powers:

Noah, you’ve been living in the federal, we have the last few years been living in sort of a federal policy drought around energy policy. After there was extensive movement in the first half of the decade to get things moving, but the market continues to grow, and projects continue to be built and we continue to scale. What do you see as the federal policy here for the next 10 years as we sort of work towards 2030?

Noah Shaw:

Well, that’s a big question.

Jon Powers:

I only ask big questions now.

Noah Shaw:

I’ll probably repeat a little bit. I’ll probably cheat a little bit and just pick a few things that I think are really important. One is we have to get the standalone storage tax credit figured out. The fact that standalone storage is not eligible right for an ITC is ridiculous and that needs to be fixed. I remember when I was at NYSERDA, we actually did a as part of our sort of state advocacy, we did a calculation of the savings to rate payers to reach the goal versus how that bill was scored. And it wasn’t even close. I mean, it was so clearly a value to rate payers, not to mention the industry that there just aren’t a lot of good rationales, frankly, for not moving forward with that, especially as storage becomes, and potentially long storage becomes so much more important to grid. And to the next item, which I’ll talk about, which is fixing sort of transmission policy, not to mention the moper and other sort of wholesale market issues that have thrown a lot of uncertainty and complexity into folks’ long term revenue predictions.

Noah Shaw:

I don’t know that the industry necessarily needs every little ask that it throws up on the board, but it does need certainty. It does need at least the hope of consistency between and among jurisdictions, if not between zones. I mean, even within the there are different rules that apply in different zones. That sort of the rationalization and the reformation of the FERC sort of position with respect to renewables or other asset resources that receive state subsidies, I think is absolutely essential for, for scaling of especially storage.

Noah Shaw:

And the next technology that I’ll talk about, which is offshore wind. Offshore wind also is right now without much support from a tax policy point of view, that credit needs to be re-upped in part and in large part, because not only is there an extraordinary potential of that industry to support the decarbonization of grids up and down the east coast and frankly on the west coast once floating technology is economic, but the economic development and jobs potential of that industry, frankly makes everything that we’re doing look like tiddly-winks. You’re talking thousands and thousands and thousands of jobs for each project where the average salaries are in the six figures. You’re talking about supply chains into the, if we reach the goals between the east coast states over a hundred billion dollars and companies from all over the world, looking to make the east coast sort of the hub of that industry for decades to come.

Noah Shaw:

So those sort of items, I think from the federal level tax policy, with respect to storage and offshore wind, and bringing some rational decision making and consistency to the FERC with respect to both transmission and the ability of renewable resources to clear in the capacity markets, I think are sort of the first and most important things to do. And I have no doubt that if there is a, I have little, well, I have no doubt that if there is a change in the administration this winter, those items will be at the top of the list of the people who are tackling this stuff in the White House and the agencies involved.

Jon Powers:

Excellent. Now, Doran, Ameresco’s got an extensive national footprint. You guys are playing in. I’m not sure at all 50 states, but a majority of them and you guys have seen firsthand the importance of the state roles and developing these markets, but it makes it challenging because you’re sort of managing 50 different fiefdoms and understanding the roles of policy and net metering or permitting or whatever in those states. First talk a little bit about the roles of states sort of in the next decade. And then are there specifically any emerging markets that you’re excited about at the state level that you guys really see sort of opportunities of scaling?

Doran Hole:

So I think the, I mentioned it in my opening comments we have about 70 offices around the country and we feel like that local presence is what makes a huge difference in terms of our ability to navigate all of the local needs, whether it be permitting or interconnection rules or simply contracting environment because we are, especially in the energy efficiency space, our core customer base is quite a lot of government customers, federal government, municipalities, states, et cetera. The state governments themselves do have a role in terms of leading the charge for what incentives and where dollars need to be going in terms of greening their own economies. And as a result we do spend quite a bit of time with state governments. We of course, since the early years of the company, when it was founded in 2000, had been following this energy savings, performance contracting framework, which is a financing tool to allow customers to finance their energy efficiency projects using the savings that will be generated in the future as measured by an audit of the energy systems. That is something that is enabled by state legislation in a number of places, and the federal government has its own kind of set of rules as it relates to that.

Doran Hole:

I think the states also continue to be important in terms of setting out frameworks for renewable goals. And for example, the low carbon fuel standard in California has been an important player in the development of renewable natural gas and will continue to be. You see Oregon starting to talk about implementing something like that. You see, in fact, north of the border, I believe a couple of the provinces in Canada considering similar things. So I think those state incentives are quite important. I would, however, go back to the fact that getting things done in these markets really requires local presence and local people who are members of the community. They are connected, whether it be politically or just environmentally being stewards of their own communities. Those are really important characteristics of being able to carry out what it is we collectively as a industry trying to do.

Doran Hole:

In terms of specific markets, so we have deep involvement in local policy making, I guess, committees, some of the industry groups especially in the Northeast, of course, the company founded in Massachusetts. So the Northeast and New England are big parts of our overall market.

Jon Powers:

Is your biggest footprint in Boston?

Doran Hole:

Go ahead. Biggest office is in Boston.

Jon Powers:

Yeah, yeah.

Doran Hole:

Yeah. Our biggest office is outside of Boston. We’ve for years done energy efficiency and renewable energy installations, both solar landfill and traditional energy efficiency and some of the advanced technology, energy efficiency projects for a number of municipalities, hospital systems, universities, et cetera, in the state. And that’s not alone though. We are a regionally managed company. So whether we’re developing renewable energy projects to put on our balance sheet and sell the power to sell the renewable natural gas, or we’re doing an energy efficiency project for a particular client, those projects, those opportunities are effectively made by the same kind of groups of origination and sales people that we have spread around the country. And so it’s kind of a collective, regionally managed group of sales folks. And I think it’s important to manage the company that way, because the technical expertise also needs to be local, understanding how to engineer projects in Southern California is very different than the design and engineering of a similar project in the Northeast.

Jon Powers:

Imagine market wise how to get your permit moving through a certain utility is a lot different in a place like Colorado than in New York, than Massachusetts.

Doran Hole:

Of course. And as we all know you’re not going to send a guy with a Boston accent out to a town hall in the Midwest to try to get a permit. We’ve probably all experienced that in one way or another. We do see opportunities across the board in multiple markets. There isn’t any particular region, we see opportunities for additional energy efficiency, renewable energy. It’s still in Massachusetts, they’ve been a very forward thinking state, New York, especially as our cooperation with Power Market is coming fruition, variety of other states that we think they’re a good opportunity.

Jon Powers:

Excellent. Thanks, Doran. And so I’m going to skip ahead to technology here in a second, cause we’re getting a lot of questions about technology from folks, but before doing that, I think we’d be shortsighted if we don’t talk about community solar as a policy and the important role that it has both in helping it grow the marketplace, but also providing opportunity to sort of all different levels of the social economic community get involved in clean energy for the first time. Jason, can you talk a little bit about, first of all, explain to people that they may not know, what is community solar? How’s this sort of viewed in these different states, how’s it sort of coming together? And then with that, I do want to hit a little bit on the topic of sort of that creating opportunity for all to be part of the clean energy space.

Jason Caplan:

Yeah. So community solar really is sort of the pure sense of democratization of participation in clean energy. Most people from a residential mass market perspective, when they think about clean energy, they think about the big wind turbines or large solar projects, or even solar on a roof. But no doubt that excludes everybody who either is a renter or a student, maybe the pitch of the roof isn’t right. Maybe the roof’s shaded, but they still obviously are really eager to participate in our community future. And so how can they possibly do that? We always think like, “What’s the thing I can do to really affect change and be a part of that?” Community solar really is that answer because really the only, not the only, but one of the fundamental eligibility criteria is that have utility account. Most people do. And what community solar is, is you would sign up to be a participant in a community solar project, which is a larger solar project between 500 KW to five megawatts, that’s a project that’s installed somewhere within your utility territory.

Jason Caplan:

So if you live in Manhattan, there may be a two megawatt solar array located in Westchester within the ConEd service territory. And theoretically you’d go to powermarket.io\marketplace, and you’d find all the different community solar projects that may be located in that utility territory for which you live. And you can click and learn that really by signing up by putting in your basic information, your name, email address, utility account, number, some other details, and signing the, what we call a subscription agreement, you can join a community solar project without any installation on your property, without any disruption. And the fundamental value proposition to community solar is that once you’re enrolled on project, essentially that solar array is being developed and constructed. You have no obligation to do anything. There’s no, you don’t have maintain it, you don’t have to worry about it.

Jason Caplan:

Once That project is operational and putting clean energy into the grid, your utility will applying credits onto utility bill, commensurate it with your participation. And when I say participation, we call it sort of the allocation that you have to a project. And what companies like Power Market does is that when you initially apply to join one of our community solar projects, we’ll look at your last 12 months of energy usage to see based on how much energy you use, how much of that solar array should we apply as a credit to your bill. And so really this is kind of where we talk about the nuances between different states, because community solar fundamentally is a state enabled program. The legislative bodies in New York and Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland, New Jersey, wherever it is, sort of state based. And so you unequivocally see differences in the way that community solar is rolled out in those states.

Jason Caplan:

Some of the fundamental nuances really around kind of how are community solar credits valued? In states like Massachusetts, there’s sort of a fixed value that when you as a community solar developer apply and you get a statement of qualification, you get sort of a number that’s, here’s the value of every kilowatt hour that’s to be generated from my community solar project for the next 20 years. In states like New York. However, we have something called the value stack or the veter credit. And there’s no doubt elements within that value stack. And trust me, I do not want to get involved in kind of going through each of those elements and how they’re valued.

Jason Caplan:

But nevertheless, there’s variability there. And certain elements of that value stack can change over time. And so we look at just the way that these programs roll out. You also look at the subscriber side in terms of how should certain community solar projects be subscribed. Should they be focused on commercial subscribers. So if you look at a state like Minnesota, the way that the program was kind of built, sort incentivized, kind of just having a relatively small number of large commercial offtake as being kind of the participants of community solar, you look at a state like New York, however, because the value of those credits are dependent on the rate class of those off takers, having residential rate takers and small commercial rate takers are more beneficial. And so you see much more mass market residential customers participating in community solar in New York.

Jason Caplan:

And so for a company like Power Market, we need to have our finger on the pulse of how the different state policies will affect how we go about acquiring and engaging customers. Because ultimately for us, we want to optimize the value of our community solar projects for our clients. And so it’s critically important that we understand all the nuances and the rules of can we have an anchor subscriber. In New York State, you can have 40% of your community solar project taken up by one or many sort of demand meter anchor subscribers, the remaining 60% taking up small residential mass market non demand subscribers. In Massachusetts, again, differently you can have 50% percent your project, not 40% so I really all to say is that in different states, the rules are different.

Jason Caplan:

The primary fundamental nature of what community solar is though is the same. And from the customer, the participant perspective in that by participating, you are supporting clean energy. You are joining a community solar project in your community. You’re getting credits applied your bill. In some states, we will charge you for the value of those credits at a discount. So you might get $100 of community solar credits on your bill, in a month and charge you $90, the value of that $100, thereby saving you $10, or that guaranteed 10%. Because in another month you might only, you might get $200 worth of credits and we’ll charge you $180 for it. So you’re always getting that guaranteed 10% savings.

Jason Caplan:

There are states though, like Rhode Island and really, and soon be New York, where the credits are being consolidated, meaning that instead of having to pay for credits, you’re going to see those credits applied your bill and that’s it. I said, you get a credit for $100 right now, and we’re charging 90 for it in New York, in about nine months, you just might get a credit for $10, applied to your bill and that’s it. And so again, the thing about community solar is we’re still in that infancy where the rules are changing. The policies are changing. We are very active in New York on the billion credit working group because no doubt, even states like New York and Massachusetts, which have the most mature community solar markets, there’s still opportunities to create efficiencies and to find challenges where we’re operating on the ground, engaging with the individual subscribers, seeing kind of the pain points that they’re feeling relative to how credits look on their utility bill, how bank credits may look and what even bank credits means. And so we want to make sure that community solar, as a program can be optimized for kind of all stakeholders. But no doubt, each state has their own ways of kind of going about it.

Jon Powers:

So I just want to one follow up question. Actually, I want to put to Noah on this. Well, first of all, Jason, I’m glad you guys understand it, because it sounds really confusing and I’m glad Power Markets can help folks like Clean Capital, just find those off takers so we can just manage the projects. I know you worked on this at NYSERDA and this is why I’m sort of putting in your direction, renewables face criticism for not being accessible to all communities, communities of color, social economic status. What role does community solar play in helping to address that? And are there other efforts that you’ve seen briefly that is helping to sort of drive that change?

Noah Shaw:

I think, so when Jason was talking, I was remembering sitting in my office at the Department of Energy in 2012 or ’13 and a friendly analyst from NREL National Renewable Energy Laboratory, walking into my office, Dave Feldman, some of you may know what I’m saying. Only about 25% of the people in the country can actually put solar on their roof. The rest is the community solar opportunity. And my mind was just like, I don’t even know what this community solar is, but that is incredible. And we spent, my first interaction was it was fighting with the SEC ultimately I think successfully to make sure that they didn’t consider community solar subscriptions or interests to be securities. And then shortly after I got to NYSERDA we got to work drafting the order, the issue in middle of 2015, authorizing community solar in New York State, and I’ll either take credit for, or deny having authored some of those words, depending on what the issue is.

Noah Shaw:

It is an incredibly versatile tool. That’s what I’ll say. I’ll say that community solar by itself, just as a sort of the fundamental sort of integral model doesn’t necessarily help with the democratization and the access to renewable energy for low and moderate income or community disadvantaged communities or others. You have to actually frame the rules around the model in a way, and provide the incentives to the market participants to point in that direction. So in New York, obviously we have a number of adders and other incentives that are not just for community solar, but for solar in general, that try to drive towards disadvantaged communities, try to drive towards areas that have been historically ignored or that have been inaccessible for these purposes, but there’s still a long way to go in that regard.

Noah Shaw:

Cross utility crediting is an enormous opportunity for, for example, large communities downstate, as we say, here in New York who don’t have access where there’s no there’s very little community solar in ConEd, as you might expect, not a lot of opportunity, but if they could subscribe to facilities that were upstate, obviously that greatly expands the ability of community solar to solve some of these problems.

Noah Shaw:

There are definitions and questions that get super weedy really fast about what kinds of customers can qualify as either mass market or demand metered and how those sorts of organizations can participate or other customers can participate. There’s a lot of progress that we can make there to open up community based organizations and others who may be demand meter, but who want to stay at a relatively small subscription allocation allow them to participate at more scale. There’s a lot of progress that needs to made, I don’t want to discount or otherwise minimize the incredible growth in the market, both in the states where this has been adopted, I think pipeline for community solar in New York state is far outstrips, frankly, any other than utility scale, but any other distributed model.

Jon Powers:

Yeah, we’re seeing so many.

Jason Caplan:

I was going to jump in real quick because it’s all about public implementing public policy to affect that change. And so while maybe New York and Massachusetts were some of the earliest community solar markets, you’ve got states like New Jersey that are really putting forth the public policy goal of inclusion of low to moderate income participants in community solar, really as a prerequisite to actually have your community solar be eligible to participate in their community solar pilot program.

Jason Caplan:

We’re involved in the New Jersey program with some of our clients that were awarded in that first round and really fundamentally everyone, every developer in that award had to essentially certify that they would have 50 or more percent of that solar project taken up by members participants of the low to moderate income community. And so that was sort of a directive, a policy directive, that was implemented into the rules. And so you see that change happening in New Jersey, no doubt, a great example of that. Maryland, certainly Massachusetts, you’ve got sort of a low income adder to the extent you want to get be incentivized to have those participants on your project. So I think we’re seeing kind of that migration, that maturation of solar policy to bring what ultimately, what I think all of us want to have happen is, is truly making community solar for all and putting really directly into the rules itself.

Jon Powers:

Yeah. Excellent. I want to spend a little bit of time on customer demand, but I’m reading so many questions about technology, I’d be silly not to jump into technology, but just to make a point, I mean, we’re talking a lot about supply here. One of the biggest game changing things that have happened this last decade and we’re seeing moving forward is the change in corporate demand when you’ve got significant renewable commitments by major companies that are not only helping to change the face of the projects being built, but also the policy landscape, when they can go into places like Virginia and demand, they won’t bring their warehouses there or their data centers, unless there’s clean energy. That’s a factor that could be a whole conversation in itself. I do want to jump forward to technology. We have a lot of questions from folks on things like combined heat and power, on renewable natural gas, on fuel cells.

Jon Powers:

Really looking at the speed and the change of technology in this last decade, it’s not about the amount of efficiency the solar panels have increased in the last 10 years, it’s about unexpected changes that are outside of our ability to change, like the internet of things and how the internet of things is allowing companies to manage energy as a service on a campus. Energy storage would be great, but if you can’t manage the deployment of that energy storage, because of the way the internet things is has grown, it’d be much harder to really maximize the financial impact of those deals.

Jon Powers:

So I want you to think about technology for a second. And my question is going to be and I’ll start with Zoe and then sort of go around the horn. What are sort of the one or two really interesting things that you see developing and on the horizon that you think will be not just a nascent technology today, but standard practice in 2030> and I’m going to ask you, Zoe, actually, I want you to focus specifically on bringing new technologies into existing projects, right?

Zoe Berkery:

Yeah.

Jon Powers:

Because we’re going to have PPAs that were assigned in 2010, that will be expiring in 2030, but you’ll have rooftop, you’ll have panels. There’s really interesting things we can start to do with it. So

Zoe Berkery:

No, absolutely. I think a huge piece of that, I mean, there’s a PPA that was signed 10 years ago that has a 20 year life so we’re halfway through, 10 years old. The landscape, which that facility sits in could look very different. Utility rates have changed, many utilities have increased demand charges while decreasing their rate for energy. So that can actually sort of skew how a PPA is then perceived or how valuable that now 10 year old PPA is to a rural school district in Colorado, for example. So things like being able to more easily add battery storage to that facility, to lower those demand charges often for a small distributed system in a state that doesn’t have sophisticated or ambitious battery storage policies, that battery storage addition is not really feasible as it is right now. So I think there’s a lot that can be done on that front that’s not just isolated to Massachusetts and California.

Zoe Berkery:

We have solar all across the country and we’re only going to have more, so we need those policies to sort of keep up with that. And then the lowering of how expensive the battery storage is and having the right policies in place to add that on can help while some of the changes that are happening on the landscape locally.

Jon Powers:

So yeah, no, that’s helpful. And Doran, Ameresco’s one of the unique firms in the space, because you’re an integrator, right? You’re not just a solar developer or a wind developer, you’re in energy efficiency, micro grids, storage. You guys are doing really amazing complex deals. What sort of excites you, so the next generation of technology that’s going to help you take these projects to your customers?

Doran Hole:

So I would say that look the expanded deployment of storage and micro grids when combined with either combined or solar and certainly there are other technologies that are going to come forward there. That in and of itself is what I see. The incorporation of resiliency is going to be a really huge piece of this puzzle. Let’s say fast forward 10 years, you would see the proliferation of micro grids kind of throughout the country. I think a really important component of that of course is going to be the pace of deployment that might be driven by the incentive. Noah mentioned the ITC for batteries, but honestly we have to get cost down. We have to get cost down to where the economics can make sense. Ameresco has had the ability to stay ahead of the technology often by virtue of the fact that we’re installing battery storage and micro grids and solar and CHP as part of a comprehensive energy solution portfolio in performance contracts, which means that no particular party is relying on some variable revenue streams to support its financing. The finance is there because of an energy savings and performance contract.

Doran Hole:

We have an installation in South Carolina, Paris Island, Marine Corps recruiting depot. So that just completed its first year of operations and that micro grid with combined heat, power and solar and battery storage. And we have been able to measure out some really, really solid savings of energy and cost, of course, for the federal government. The federal government customer is not your everyday customer for the rest of the country. And so we need to have those incentives in place to allow for the broad deployment.

Doran Hole:

Now, moving beyond that, what do we see coming? Certainly I think that the green hydrogen is going to be a topic of conversation going forward. We need, of course, dollars going into research and development bring down the cost of electrolysis, et cetera, to make that something that’s actually viable. But again, when you’re looking, when you’re sitting here and looking forward 10 years, all we can talk about is what we think will move the market toward mass deployment of these technologies, right? It’s our job as, I guess, combatants of, frontline combatants, of climate change to turn the theoretical into the possible. So I think we need to direct policy and that’s what we’ll use to the forefront.

Jon Powers:

Can I ask you a question in your CFO hat? The ESP, energy is a service for folks that aren’t familiar, the energy savings performance contract is sort of this holistic energy service contract that the federal government does where they pay the cost and they save energy and they’re allowed to do it. It really hasn’t taken off in the public sector as much, or I’m sorry, the private sector as much as for instance, PPAs, right? Do you see sort of a emerging financial tool that will allow that comprehensive, for the simplest way to say it, a PPA for a micro grid or energy as a service becoming more standardized so that we can finance them to scale here the next 10 years?

Doran Hole:

It is coming, Jon. So where

Jon Powers:

Well, tell me how to do it when you’re ready. We want to finance.

Doran Hole:

So where you’re seeing it work for the non municipalities, so everyone can look at the CNI market and understand that their planning period, they look forward for where they’re going to measure energy savings is maybe five to seven years, right? That’s why, when you look at the corporate participation in the electricity market the PPAs are shorter tenure and that’s because the planning periods are shorter. So much energy conservation measures actually produce good results there. Well, it’s the ones that have short payback periods like lighting, right? That’s where it started to gain some traction. I think that when you think about some of the other energy conservation measures that say the federal government will do, those things actually have much longer payback periods than as a result of that. That’s CNI market. It’s hard to apply that.

Doran Hole:

So the challenge we have as kind of a finance community is to come up with a product and financing sources that can look past these short term planning periods and figure out how to, customer that there is a financial benefit. And in my mind, the first two things that come to mind, first is what is the price you can put on resiliency? And right now that’s market by market. The second is-

Jon Powers:

Company by company.

Doran Hole:

… what is the price … Right, true. And the second is what is the price that you can put on carbon reduction? We don’t have a carbon tax now, but people are publishing papers. A lot of think tanks going after trying to figure out where that sits. And I think that collectively the finance community needs to really just figure out how it likes and can underwrite the cost of carbon, convince customers that is part of the equation that they need to be thinking of. When you think about California, wildfire season, why companies are willing to pay for resiliency? Well, after all of the shutdowns last year, suddenly a lot of the people in companies there actually can really get down to dollars and cents of what that costs them to have no power.

Doran Hole:

I think those are the elements that need to be folded into the conversation now. So I do feel like it’s coming, but as I said, shorter payback period measures, it’s starting to gain traction, but for now that tool remains popular and remains feasible in the what effectively is the mush market, the municipal higher ed, university market. I mean, it’s the market’s taking its own turn with the energy as a service. You’re seeing some of these concession agreements, large steel by Ohio State, for example, kind of future opportunities in the university space. And I think Ameresco, our view is simply, we’re going to continue to chase that market as a leading integrator of technologies. We want to be able to bring that forward, but we are going to continue to maintain relationships with financial partners to allow them to understand and underwrite the financing of those projects.

Jon Powers:

Yeah, no, that’s great.

Doran Hole:

And again, I hate to go back to this again, but Jon, the numbers have to pencil for these institutions to be interested, right. And in order for the numbers to pencil, costs need to come down and the costs come down with large deployments. And I think the United States has a choice here when it comes to manufacturing, are you going to put incentives in place to allow you to be the one who can bring that low cost to battery storage, green hydrogen, whatever it is that’s next, so that you don’t end up where we are with solar panels today, where China rules the whole thing? Because the government, they took it and made it their own deployments, went out the roof and cost went down.

Jon Powers:

Fascinating. I’d add one, and the cost of capital needs to keep coming down and people are getting more familiar with these technologies, the cheaper cost of capital who will begin to move where there’s certainty there. So the more we’re proving these out, the more we’re going to hopefully get pension funds and others investing these long-term assets. So we’re really short on time here. And I just wanted to, Noah and Jason, if you got a quick technology on a reference before we wrap up.

Noah Shaw:

I don’t think I’ll just say transportation. Obviously there’s a lot of opportunity from a technology point of view there. It’s not even worth going much deeper, but I think in the grand scheme, that is where a lot of the action in the 2020s is going to be on the technology side.

Jon Powers:

Yeah, this, I mean, first of all, this has been a fascinating conversation and I think we could do this for another hour. There’s so many other topics to cover. I really wanted to thank our panelists for their insights and thank the audience for their questions. You can get more episodes of Experts Only at Clean Capital’s website, cleancapital.com. Really hope to continue this conversation, because as I’ve said before, I think the next 10 years of this, the next decade for our industry is really going to be critical so we can hit our climate goals. And I really wanted to thank everyone on the panel today for their thought leadership on this and the work they’re doing every day to help solve this. So thank you. Thank you to NECEC and Navigate for sponsoring the webinar. Caterina.

Jon Powers:

Thanks for listening in today’s conversation. Find more episodes on cleancapital.com, iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. If you like what you hear, be sure to subscribe and leave us a five star review. We look forward to continuing our conversation on energy, innovation, and finance with you.