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July 1st, 2010
The 1603 lb Gorilla in the Room: Termination of Cash Grant Program Could Spell Disaster for Renewable Energy Finance
Project finance is the key to clean energy growth and many in the industry are worried about the ramifications on financing if the Recovery Act section 1603 cash grants AKA the “cash-in-lieu of tax credit” grants expire at the end of 2010, as they are set to do. The success of 1603 has been undeniable as it allowed a streamlined way for these capital-intensive projects to get financed during the global recession, accounting for up to 30% of the capital expenditure of a project.
Different iterations have been introduced on Capital Hill to extend the grants. Most recently, seven US Senators teamed up to propose an extension through 2012. And most controversially, US Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) proposed to alter 1603 as the centerpiece of his proposed “Buy American” bill.
The financiers themselves are voicing how critical an extension of 1603 really is, simply because investors need to know that they’ll get a return on their investment in reasonably short order. Whether it’s continued as an extension of stimulus or part of a new energy and climate bill, cash grants must be addressed in the short term. And the dealmakers, the ones who inevitably sign off to make these projects happen, are practically begging for the government to restore financial certainty for their investments. The fear is that while Congress focuses on climate legislation in the long term, project finance will suffer, stifling the unprecedented industry growth we saw in 2009.
In fact, we’ve already seen a severe drop in the wind sector in 2010. Experts are reeling that only 539 MW went online in Q1, down from the 2,800 MW put on in Q1 2009. That said, there are certainly other factors in play besides uncertainty about cash grants, but the fact remains that credit markets are still frozen and the federal business energy investment tax credit (ITC) just won’t cut it for the bulk of new projects that are starved for capital.
The leading project financiers and clean energy executives in the US are convening this week in Manhattan at the 2010 Renewable Energy Finance Forum (or REFF-Wall Street) to discuss the financial state of the industry. My colleagues and I at Rasky Baerlein are running the media component of the event and will be onsite at the Waldorf Astoria. I’ve got my ear to the ground and will have some people sit in on the “View From the Major Investment Banks” session for me. I’m interested in that one most because it includes heavy hitters in renewable energy finance from all the major investment banks, and I’m guessing that 1603 will be a much discussed topic. Stay tuned…
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