Houston — The CEOs of six wind and solar development companies speaking on a webcast Friday all agreed that "uncertain" was the best word to use in answering questions about where the US renewables business stands in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the country's economy.
Receive daily email alerts, subscriber notes & personalize your experience.Register Now
The moderator of the webinar, Keith Martin of the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, called the renewables situation "fluid." He said he could imagine that that utilities in the Rust Belt and the oil patch will feel the drop in demand and thus revenues most significantly.,
James Torgerson, CEO of Avangrid, said that in Upstate New York and New England his company is expecting "somewhat of a decline in demand." However, "with everyone staying home, the residential load is probably going to go up a little bit. So we are going to wait and see. We haven't seen much yet, but expect that a decline will occur."
Asked about the impact on revenue, Torgerson said, "The good thing is that all of our utilities have decoupling, so our revenue, for us, is going to stay flat, though I am expecting load to drop down."
He noted that not all states have decoupling. Decoupling means that revenue is set based on a utility's rate base and then through the cost of service that commissions calculate to determine what revenue a utility should get to meet an allowed return.
Asked if wind and solar projects in progress are likely to be completed, Mike Garland, the CEO of Pattern Energy, which develops wind, solar and storage projects, said he believes they will, but there are "uncertainties" around meeting deadlines.
He noted that some projects could prove to be more expensive, as developers deal with supply-chain disruptions.
"The widening of margins on projects is making the lender market really uncertain for both tax equity and loans," Garland said.
Paul Gaynor, CEO of wind developer Longroad Energy, added that he expects "credit spreads to widen and increase."
Solar developer Origis Energy's CEO, Guy Vanderhaegen, said that "projects will get delayed." He said that the residential market for solar is essentially "shut" right now, but the utility-scale market is not.
Tom Werner, CEO of SunPower, said his sales staff is largely working from home, reaching out to potential residential customers. He noted that interest in rooftop solar among commercial and industrial customers is now "different" from what it was a few months ago. He said different customers are now in different situations, and it will take time for customers to reassess possible investments.
CALLS FOR EXTENSION OF ITC AND PTC
The one subject that all six of the CEO's agreed upon was that this would be an ideal time for Congress and the IRS to extend by perhaps two years the investment tax credit, or ITC, for solar projects and the Production Tax Credit, or PTC, for wind projects.
On March 19, the American Council on Renewable Energy, or ACORE, and a number of other renewable energy groups sent a letter the US House and Senate leadership the growth of the clean energy sector "is placed at risk by a range of COVID-19 related impacts."
The letter said the impacts included supply-chain disruptions "that have the potential to delay construction timetables and undermine the ability of wind, solar and hydropower developers to qualify for time-sensitive tax credits, and a sudden reduction in the availability of tax equity, which is crucial to monetizing tax credits and financing clean energy projects of all types."
It said that an extension of "start construction and safe harbor deadlines"' were needed to ensure renewable projects can qualify for renewable tax credits.
It also called for provisions allowing renewable tax credits to be available for direct pay to "facilitate their monetization in the face of reduced availability of tax equity."
Separately, the American Wind Energy Association released a statement on March 19 saying that it believes COVID-19 is "putting an estimated 25 GW of wind projects at risk, representing $35 billion in investment."
It said it was asking Congress to "immediately extend the schedule and improve the liquidity of our existing tax credits."