More than 750 professionals from across the renewables sector met this week for the Renewable Energy Finance Forum at NYC’s Waldorf Astoria.
On stage in the hotel’s main ballroom and over drinks at the neighboring St. Barts restaurant, professionals in finance, generation, transmission, law and politics traded industry gossip, best practices and lessons learned.
While some of the chit-chat was drowned by New York City’s busy streets, some comments were not to be missed.
The following are Breaking Energy’s favorite quotes from the conference:
1. “We’re diddling around on BS while the rest of the world is out there kicking our butt!” – Edward Rendell, former Pennsylvania governor
In a speech that encompassed a wide range of subjects facing the industry, from tax policy to public sentiment, Rendell complained that the federal government is caught up in silly debates instead of seriously tackling energy issues. He noted that an entire Republican debate focused exclusively on lightbulbs. Special interests, he said, are too powerful in Washington.
2. “We’re sitting on the precipice of a massive supply-demand imbalance in electricity” - Parker Weil, Managing Director, Bank of America Merrill Lynch
In this morning’s panel, Global Financial Markets – How The Investment Banks See It, Weil noted that economics of energy efficiency are extremely compelling for both equity and debt investors. He noted that the twin focus for investors will be both on utilities adding clean-energy infrastructure and demand response technologies integrated into commercial real estate in response to that imbalance.
3. “The challenge in the U.S. is that it’s like 50 different countries. Even though there’s a federal mandate, or somewhat of a federal mandate, but then its divvied up into the utilities. Then there are 200 investor-owned utilities and 3,000 municipal-owned utilities. So anyone doing business here has to deal with over 3,000 entities. - Ben Compton, COO and VP Commercial Operations, meteocontrol.
In an exclusive interview with Breaking Energy, Compton spoke of his efforts to expand his solar PV management company, which is already quite successful in Europe, into the American market. Some of that challenges he has face in that process are what he called,”start and stop” federal incentives and the general fragmentation of American energy policy.
4. “I often receive the complaint that there isn’t enough tax equity in the market. The question I think is, is that true? Is it tax equity constrained or is it just good deal constrained? I’ll give you a hint: since I’m an investor you might know where I come out.” – Brian Matthay, VP Environmental Finance, Wells Fargo
At one of the conference’s first sessions Tuesday morning, investors discussed the growth opportunities for the Solar PV market. While some panelists said there were challenges facing new developers trying to land start-up capital, Matthay insisted that tax equity and cash grants in particular were more than available for solid, reliable, well-backed projects.
5. “This has been the pause that refreshes” – Ray Wood, Co-Head Global Cleantech Investment Banking, Credit Suisse
Wood advanced the notion that the market for cleantech is ready for a boom as investors search for opportunities to maximize returns and shrug off the impact of the Greek debt crisis, the Fukushima nuclear incident and the end of Federal Reserve monetary supply expansion programs.
6. “People somewhat define the cleantech sector by what’s happening in solar.” – Amy Corrine-Smith, Co-Head Global Cleantech Investment Banking, Jeffries & Co
Corrine-Smith pointed out that the stock prices in the solar sector has suffered since costs have declined, but only recently investors were complaining that solar was too expensive. She expects investor attention to diversify among renewable energy sources in the coming years.
7. “There is no ‘off the shelf’ solution to insurance challenges in renewables; you need a specialist to negotiate between banks, customers…so much can be done early on.” – Robert Bothwell, Executive Managing Director, Beecher Carlson
Energy projects often leave insurance negotiations until they have a viable project, but Bothwell said that banks are sufficiently uncomfortable with these projects they often prevent financing completion. Projects can be delayed by up to two years without proper preparation, Bothwell warned early on the first day of the conference.
8. “Everyone realizes energy diversification and renewables are good things, but the question is how they get there.” – Peter C Duprey, CEO, Broadwind Energy
The need for a reliable and consistent energy policy was repeated in many of the conversations Breaking Energy had at REFF Wall Street. Duprey said that industry is forced to stop and start by shifts in policy, especially tax code changes that limit long-term planning and financing.
9. “The decline in [solar PV] costs that we’ve seen in the last three years is nothing short of astounding.” – Arno Harris, CEO, Recurrent Energy
In a panel discussion on utility-scale solar PV, executives from some of the world’s most influential solar companies spoke about the future of this technology and its ability to reach market parity. Harris was extremely optimistic that with the prices of solar PV dropping in recent years, power from the sun will be as cheap as thermal power sooner rather than later.
10. “You can’t have a viable industry, when the tax credits have to be renewed every four years. They have to be permanent. There have to be permanent federal tax incentives.” – Edward Rendell, former Pennsylvania governor
In his speech, Rendell urged all present to lobby the federal government about renewable energy. Everyone wants energy independence, he said, including the American people and politicians on both sides of the aisle.
“We can fashion a bipartisan bill in the name of American energy independence because everyone thinks this is an achievable goal that will create jobs.” For this to happen, he said, tax incentives and credits have to be long-term and reliable.
Caption: The above picture is not of a chandelier at the Waldorf, but it is intended to convey the glamor and sparkle of that famed hotel, and the excitement among renewable energy industry participants who have spent the last two days preparing for a rosy future under its cavernous ceilings.