Top 5 Things I Learned from NCSEA’s Clean Energy Finance Conference

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One of the best things about being a Duke graduate student, focusing on energy, is the plethora of out-of-the-classroom learning opportunities. Earlier in November, a group of undergrad & grad students attended the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA) conference on Clean Energy Finance. Here are my quick top 5 insights from the day’s various  panels:

  1. Corporate tax reform may shrink the tax equity market that propels a lot of utility-scale renewable energy projects. Tyler Norris, Manager of Cypress Creek Renewables’ Policy & Market Development team, made this point during his opening keynote. As energy professionals, the ITC & PTC receives the lion’s share of attention when it comes to tax policy. However, these tax breaks will mean less in future project finance if corporations have to pay less tax overall and appetite for tax equity decreases.
  2. Industrial grid defection is a real possible for Duke Energy Progress and Duke Energy Carolinas service territory. In a lively panel titled “The Market Outlook for North Carolina’s Future”, moderated by Scott Madden’s Paul Quinlan, Kevin O’Donnell spoke from his perspective as an Energy Consultant for the Carolina Utility Customer Association. His clients belong to the industrial customer segment, which Kevin claims are quite high, relative to neighboring states. The planned increases in industrial rates, currently 29.8% increase over the next ten years may impact businesses and local economic development.
  3. Energy storage used for “exotic” purposes under ancillary services will, most likely, not be offered in North Carolina any time soon. The mid-morning panel on batteries, as a disruptive technology in our region’s power sector, had much to say about new projects. Unfortunately, these new projects will not be taking stock of any stacked benefits. Representatives from the private sector, banking, and public policy were able to talk about how PPAs are evolving in this space. Primarily, these favorable contract terms are taking advantage of time shifting applications to move electrons at a more favorable price, but not for things like frequency regulation.
  4. Out of $92 million dollars available to the state, due to the Volkswagen settlement, $13.8 million can go towards ZEV infrastructure. On a panel dedicated to financing electric vehicle infrastructure in North Carolina, $2 billion is nothing to laugh at. As Sheila Holman, Assistant Secretary for the Environment at the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, stated, it is all in the Appendix C fund where out of 92 million, about 15% can be dedicated to EVSE (that’s almost $14 million dollars). Compared to dedicated funds to similar EV initiatives in leading states like New York, this bumps North Carolina up to a potential leadership position.
  5. The best used car is an EV! Advocates like Ben Prochazka, Vice President at the Electrification Coalition, will be the first to say that EVs are not on their way, they’re already here! Consumer satisfaction for EVs are due to rise as private sector investments may pout into EVSE funding. Challenges like range uncertainty (rather than range anxiety) will be interesting obstacles for utilities to figure out. But, as businesses such as Kohl’s and Target catch onto the economic value of dwell time as EV drivers spend more time shopping per minute the longer they stay in the store, “vehicle-to-building” or V2B design will be ever more prevalent.