I'm resisting the urge to try to conjure a useful comment on this one in order to (1) veil my ignorance and (2) further convince myself that I think I know everything:
Only a few months ago, it seemed that the renewable energy sector could do little wrong: Stock prices were soaring and money was pouring in as investors flocked to get in on the action.
That is no longer the case. Low oil and gas prices have roiled the energy markets, and the specter of rising interest rates has rattled investors’ confidence in the industry’s returns. Although energy and financial experts say that the basics of the business remain sound, the lofty stock prices have tumbled, leading renewable energy companies to scramble for new approaches to their businesses.
Nowhere has the retrenchment been more acute than in a newfangled financing mechanism called a yieldco. Yieldcos, public companies conceived by renewable energy companies as a way to raise cheaper capital for project development, have attracted billions in new investments.
The yieldcos buy and operate power plants, mainly those that their parent companies develop. The yieldcos then collect the contracted electricity fees and pay the bulk of them out as dividends. With investors hungry for stable returns, energy yieldcos were greeted with enthusiasm through initial public offerings of their stocks over the last year and a half. ...
The idea behind yieldcos was simple on its face: Bundle together completed or nearly completed power projects that ostensibly offered steady, low-risk cash flows in the form of power purchase agreements covering electricity payments over 15 years or so. Because they were tied to power plant developers — including Abengoa, NextEra Energy and Pattern Development — the yieldcos would have steady pipelines of projects from the parent companies and the parent companies could replenish their capital through those sales.
Part of the rationale was that energy development is expensive and renewable energy projects do not have access to tax-advantaged financing mechanisms like master limited partnerships. Those partnerships have spurred the building of oil and gas infrastructure like pipelines over the decades. ...
Nonetheless, for a while, the system proved attractive to investors, and analysts and clean-energy advocates predicted ever more activity and success in the sector. More than a dozen yieldcos have formed since 2013, and many have gone public, including 8point3 Energy Partners, a joint venture of First Solar and SunPower that raised $420 million in its initial public offering in June.
But as yieldcos proliferated — each with a hunger to bring in new projects to satisfy investor demand for growth — they drove up competition and prices for projects. Investors began to lose confidence that there would be enough projects to go around. In addition, the threat of rising interest rates made the yieldcos less attractive than more conventional financing. And depressed prices for oil and gas brought down energy values over all. ...
Several analysts and executives attributed the declines to a mismatch between the investors — which include hedge funds looking for a relatively quick return — and the investments, intended to pay back over a long time. Others said investors who were losing money in oil and gas began dumping their renewable stocks to cover those losses.
Either way, the new companies became caught in a kind of self-reinforcing downward spiral in which the drop in share prices raised dividend yields, making it more expensive to borrow money or issue equity. That, in turn, lowered the returns on new projects and pushed down share prices even more.
Ah, the old "investor demand for growth." Investors are a hungry and impatient lot. Make sure you sell on the way down.