Renewable Energy REITs or MLPs Would Unlock Billions for Project Development

According to Richard Kauffman, Senior Advisor to Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu, making real estate investment trusts (REITs) or master limited partnerships (MLPs) available for renewable energy project financing is the key to advancing the industry.
In his DOE role he is trying to understand where market forces can be harnessed in order to unleash the flood of investment that is needed to bring about large renewable energy projects.
Kauffman explained what he sees as a disconnect between returns in renewable energy projects compared to returns in other investments. On the one hand, today, renewable energy projects are financed in what he called an “old-fashioned, archaic way” where for the most part, projects rely on private sector money that is looking for high rates of returns, typically around 12-14 percent. On the other hand, money managers, wary of the stock market and its risks, have returned to the bond markets, which offer more steady (but lower) rates of return, in the 5 or 6 percent range.
Kauffman explained that this “wall of money” that is looking for a stable rate of return, such as what can be found in the bond markets, could easily invest in renewable energy projects if only the financial vehicle existed that allowed it to. Renewable energy projects with signed power purchase agreements (PPAs) will deliver a healthy rate of return to their investors, one that will be stable for 20 years, exactly what the money managers are seeking.
According to Kauffman, REITs and MLPs, function like a bond and are currently used in more mature markets for project development. If they were available to renewable energy projects, said Kauffman, they would unlock loads of money for project development. Two separate bills have already been introduced in Congress seeking to allow renewable energy projects to be financed through REITs and MLPs but neither bill has come up for vote yet.

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