Before we dive into this conversation – let’s be clear that SRECs (Solar Renewable Energy Credits) can be the most confusing part of figuring out the economics of a solar project. Let’s also be clear that – as with anything confusing, (as well as possibly boring) – the temptation is to remove the confusion as quickly as possible. In the world of solar installation and selling SRECs this sometimes translates to simply selling up to 15yrs of SRECs all at once to a solar installation company, who then installs the system at a bargain price. Buyer beware – the immediate gratification of selling all of your SRECs in one fell swoop could be misleading. When it comes to How and When you get paid for your SRECs “…the Sooner the Better” may not be a sound financial strategy.
That said…Let’s talk Solar Renewable Energy Credits in Washington DC.
Both Maryland and Washington DC, along with eight other states have enacted the Renewable Portfolio Standards which specify that a certain amount of the renewable energy generated within that state must come from solar. Whether residential, commercial, or institutional, each time a solar system generates 1 Megawatt hour of energy – the solar system owner generates 1 SREC. This SREC is then sold via aggregators to an SREC market where it is bought by Power Companies to allow them to meet their share of the compliance obligation, or else pay a legislated fine (Alternative Compliance Payment, or ACP) for every SREC they are short. Washington DC currently generates the highest SREC values in the country largely due to the fact that the District does not have the real estate to install large solar farms which can oversupply the market and drive down SREC prices.
How Much is an SREC worth?
The value of an SREC in a particular market is dynamic due to two primary factors
- by design, SRECs values are intended to decline over time. The legislated ACP which serves as a ceiling to the SREC price is usually scheduled to decline in future years. Among other factors, increased installations should lead to decreased system costs and less need for SRECs to help finance a solar system.
- The other reason for variations is due to market mechanisms. Brokers buy and sell SRECs in order to help make a market for them. When the market is undersupplied, SRECs trade high, at a price close to the penalty (ACP). This is good for those selling SRECs. If the market is oversupplied (like Maryland is currently), then SREC prices in that market will decline well below the penalty – not so good for those selling SRECs. Varying SREC payment options are intended to allow system owners to buy down their SREC price risk. The difference between an Upfront Payment option and a Brokerage Payment option (market price) can be many thousands of dollars to a solar system owner. In an undersupplied market like DC, where there is very little price risk for SRECs, that upfront payment option leaves a lot of money on the table.
How many SRECs will my system generate?
The number of SRECs any given system will generate depends upon the output of your system. For example, an optimized (as in good and sunny) 5.0 kW system in Washington DC would generate close to 6.0 SRECs/year.
How and When would I receive my SREC income?
SRECs are most commonly sold through an SREC aggregator/broker such as Washington DC-based SolSystems. However, SRECs here in the District are so valuable – as well as stable – that solar panel contractors are also offering to buy your SRECs and simply deduct the upfront payment off the cost of your solar installation. So THIS is the heart of this article: Solar owners have 3 choices for how to get paid for their SRECs:
- Upfront Payment (all SRECs are forfeited for a 5yr or 15yr period)
- 3yr, 7yr or 10yr Annuity Contract (SREC prices Locked-in for a specific term)
- Brokerage (Current market price less broker commission).
Sticking with the aforementioned 5kW system example, the following table illustrates projected SREC values for the system, using current SREC prices (November 2016) offered by a competitive SREC aggregator).
System Size = 5kW SREC per Year = 6
So, reviewing the column above, this Washington DC Homeowner with a 5.0kW system has these financial options to choose from:
$$$$$: Brokerage = $32,101.85 over 25yr life of systems (as warrantied)
$$$: *Annuity = $18,690 guaranteed then sign-up for another annuity or go Brokerage
$: Upfront = $8025.60 SRECs cannot be sold again until 2032.
*Annuity is also available in 3 or 5 yr increments, as well as the 10yr
The Brokerage price is exponentially higher than the other prices, does that mean there’s a lot of risk?
Some risk – yes, because you’re not locked-in to a static price. But remember – historically DC SREC pricing has remained stable (the geography does not accommodate huge solar farms that can flood the DC SREC market). You can receive an email monthly that allows you to check on current pricing AND should the price start to decline – you can, at any point in time, switch to an Annuity. .
If I choose the 10yr Annuity Option and lock-in my SREC pricing, what happens at the end of that time period?
You simply choose another payment option being offered at the time of contract experation. Maybe you’ll opt for brokerage – or another annuity, up to you. Same with the Upfront Payment, after 15 years.
How do I receive my SREC income?
Via check from the SREC aggregator which most pay quarterly (except with the Upfront Payment option which would be one-time). This generally starts around two months after your system has been interconnected by your Utility and the SREC contract set-up. We do advise that the contractual SREC relationship be kept between a professional broker/aggregator and the solar system owner. Third parties, such as the solar panel installation company, may find themselves in a conflict of interest.
If the solar system installer is not buying my SRECs, who sets up the contract?
Most reputable solar panel installation companies will coordinate the initial set-up of your SREC contract with an SREC aggregator, as they have immediate access to the documents required for the initial set-up (Passed Building Permit, Interconnection Approval etc.). Many installers have one or two aggregators they’re used to dealing with – or you may choose your own.