News for the Hospitality Executive
Improvements Without The capital
By Kevin A. GoldsteinAbout HVS
Vice President, HVS Sustainability Services
A growing number of alternative financing methods are available to support hotel and resort owners in the implementation of utility efficiency projects. Several of these methods do not require owner-contributed capital, providing a novel approach to funding building infrastructure improvements.Introduction
Over the course of ownership for a particular asset, hotel owners and managers are oftentimes faced with conflicting priorities for investment of working capital – either into front of the house renovations to drive revenue, or back of the house projects to curtail costs. In the case of investment trusts and other public companies, managers must also reserve adequate capital for future acquisitions and maintain portfolio balance sheets that are attractive to investors. With diverging priorities and limited funds, where does a hotel owner or manager begin?
The good news is that some relief may be in sight in the form of a range of alternative financing methods for utility efficiency projects, which can help hotel owners reserve their capital and available credit for uses other than back of the house projects. Several of these alternative financing models have been developed in recent years by entrepreneurial investors, while other methods have been used for decades in publicly-owned buildings and commercial real estate. This article provides a summary of several of the more common methods of alternative financing, and also discusses advantages and disadvantages to each approach from a hospitality owner’s perspective.
What is Alternative Financing?
Traditional debt in the form of loans is a mature and widespread financing vehicle; however, hotel owners are oftentimes reluctant to use available lines of credit for utility efficiency projects. Originating in the public sector but expanding into other areas (including commercial and residential real estate), a number of alternative methods of financing equipment retrofits have become increasingly popular. These approaches include financing based upon participation in the savings resulting from project implementation, financing directly from utility companies, onsite power purchase agreements, equipment leasing, and other novel mechanisms.
Alternative financing can be attractive to hotel owners because a third-party investor is willing to share in the project risk and returns, creating a joint incentive between the investor and the building owner for the success of the project (which in several scenarios can be completed without owner contributions of capital). Several methods of alternative financing are transferable with a change in ownership, allowing owners to consider projects with lengthier payback periods (e.g. large-scale plant retrofits). Under certain circumstances, alternative financing can also be structured as off-balance sheet financing – although pending changes to standards in lease accounting under consideration by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) may impact the balance sheet treatment of several of these funding methods under U.S. GAAP and IFRS.
Common Methods of Alternative Financing
So, which methods of alternative financing are available for consideration? Several of the established and emerging approaches are outlined in Table 1 below, and described in greater depth in the following pages.
Table 1, Summary of Methods of Alternative Financing Discussed in this Article
Guaranteed Savings Financing
In a guaranteed savings agreement, an Energy Services Company (ESCO) guarantees that the savings resulting from an energy efficiency project will repay the cost of financing over the term of the contract. Financing is typically provided via a third-party company, which can be either a conventional lender or a specialized energy finance company. Since the annual savings are greater than the required payments over the contract term, a positive cash flow is anticipated, and the lender is assured a lower risk of default.
The ESCO industry has matured significantly over the past forty years. First emerging in the United States subsequent to the energy crisis in the early 1970s, ESCOs currently turn over approximately $USD 5 Billion of projects annually in the U.S. alone (primarily at museums, universities, schools, hospitals). ESCOs are also prevalent elsewhere in the world, although lack of accessible financing can provide a barrier to entry in emerging markets. In addition to the guaranteed savings model, ESCOs also engage in other types of relationships including design/build, power purchase agreements, and consulting (as well as several of the alternative financing mechanisms described in this article).
ESCO projects can be favorable for owners with deferred capital improvements, in geographies with high commodity prices, and in situations where outside project design and management expertise is needed. ESCO projects have been successfully completed at hotel properties in the U.S. as well as a number of other countries, although historically the hospitality sector has not provided a large market for ESCO transactions.
Under tax-lien financing (also referred to as “Property-Assessed Clean Energy”, or PACE financing), property owners are able to borrow money from municipal agencies to implement a variety of energy efficiency projects. This funding can be raised through government bonds or private financing, but in either case the finance charges are assessed to the property owners as a component of annual property tax bills. The PACE model affixes the loan to the property rather than the owner – thereby encouraging equipment retrofits where payback periods may be longer than ownership horizons. PACE financing can include both the soft and hard costs of energy efficiency projects, with loan repayments over 5 – 20 years.
Although PACE has been in development for a number of years and the enabling legislation exists in roughly half of the U.S. states, actual commercial projects financed under PACE have been limited to select municipalities in California and Colorado (in addition to small-scale residential loans in New York). It should be noted that PACE financing for residential projects has been placed on hold for the time being due to concerns from the Federal Housing Finance Agency regarding the priority of PACE liens over existing mortgages. Issues raised by first position mortgage holders and transactional issues have also delayed the implementation of PACE commercial projects, although a significant traunch of funding has recently been announced for PACE in South Florida and Sacramento, California municipalities. It is unknown when the first large-scale commercial projects will commence in these and other markets.
Assuming the transactional concerns can be addressed, PACE financing could be an attractive model for hospitality assets because of its low interest rates and ease of transfer to future owners (upon sale of the property). A preliminary pipeline of commercial projects already exists in various markets, awaiting the initiation of PACE lending.
In the On-Bill Financing model (also referred to as “meter loans” or “Tariff Improvement Programs”), a utility will invest its own capital or third party funds into equipment upgrade projects at its customers’ properties. The equipment purchase loan is repaid over time as a component of future utility bills. These programs are established at utilities in approximately fifteen U.S. states.
On-Bill Financing can be attractive to investors because they perceive the risk of utility collection as low – given that customers routinely prioritize paying their utility bills over other bills (especially in a hospitality context).
From a property ownership standpoint, however, on-bill financing can limit projects to improvements relating solely to the commodity that the utility distributes (e.g. electricity, natural gas, etc.). When structured and funded correctly, and with the appropriate marketing, these programs have been successful in their limited deployment.Managed Energy Service Agreement
The Managed Energy Service Agreement (MESA) is a financing model based on the concept of building owners paying a fixed rate for utility services in exchange for implementation of energy efficiency projects at their properties. Under a typical MESA agreement, a third-party investor finances the design, construction, and installation of energy efficiency improvements at a property, and then sells energy back to the property owner at rates equivalent to historical energy usage. The cost of the MESA project is repaid to the investor over the term of the energy provisioning contract, which can extend up to ten (10) years depending on the scale of the project and financial returns to the MESA investor.
During the contract term, the MESA investor owns the installed equipment under a special purpose entity (SPE) established for the project. The SPE assumes the responsibility of paying the utility bills for a property, and the property owner makes monthly service payments to the SPE instead of paying the utility company directly (i.e. the monthly MESA payments replace the monthly utility payments). Ownership of the equipment is transferred to the building owner at the end of the contract term, at which point the investment has been repaid in entirety and the building owner receives the full financial benefit of the energy savings.
Similar to Guaranteed Savings Projects, MESA projects will typically include large-box real estate with centralized plants and significant levels of deferred capital projects. MESA has been applied in commerical real estate but has not yet been evaluated in a hospitality context. The MESA financing method can be attractive in that it does not require capital investment from the building owner, can be structured as an operating expense (as a service, rather than capital lease), and incentivizes the project team to perform (as their return on investment is linked to the realized energy efficiency improvements). However, the contract periods and outside ownership of critical building equipment may deter hotel owners and investors from some aspects of this type of agreement.
Efficiency Services Agreement
Under an Efficiency Services Agreement (ESA), a third-party investor finances turn-key energy efficiency projects at a host facility. During the term of an ESA, the hard and soft costs of the turn-key project are repaid to the investor in the form of a service charge that is based upon a cost per unit of energy saved, much like a power purchase agreement, but for energy saved instead of energy generated. The building owner continues to pay its utility bills directly.
A typical ESA agreement includes all engineering, design, construction, equipment, installation, maintenance and ongoing monitoring costs associated with an energy efficiency project. The ESA financier holds title to the equipment during the contract term (typically between 5 and 10 years), and at the contract end date, customers have an option to purchase the project equipment at fair market value or extend the contract to include new energy efficiency investments.
The ESA is a relatively new financing model that has been applied in commercial real estate but has not yet been evaluated in a hospitality context. This financing model could potentially be attractive to hotel owners because it does not require capital expenditure, can be structured as an operating expense, and incentivizes the project team to perform (as their return on investment is directly linked to the realized energy efficiency improvements). However, the contract periods and external ownership of critical building equipment during the contract term may deter hotel owners and investors from some aspects of this type of agreement.
Sale of Energy Arrangement
With a sale of energy arrangement (also commonly referred to as a “Power Purchase Agreement” or PPA), a utility service provider owns, installs, and operates utility equipment at its customer’s property. This approach is commonly used in solar energy, although it has potential applicability to other methods of onsite utility generation (for example, wind energy, geothermal energy, co-generation of heat and hot water, generation of potable water, waste to energy, etc.). The utility service provider typically benefits from the many tax credits and other financial incentives associated with renewable energy facilities – which in conjunction with the sale of the commodity can provide a reasonable return on investment over time.
The sale-of-energy approach can be attractive to hotel owners since this arrangement does not require capital investment and also places the cost and burden of ongoing maintenance and repair on the utility service provider. However, the hotel property must possess certain physical characteristics and be located in an area that is conducive to onsite utility generation (in terms available space for renewable energy plant, climatic conditions, regulatory regimes, availability of tax credits and other incentives, and other factors). Lengthy contract periods are also typical with these agreements.
Leasing effectively separates the ownership of an asset from the use of an asset. Leasing companies are different than conventional lenders in that they have a specific knowledge of an asset (and industry) and are lending based on the ability of an asset to generate a cash flow (or to reduce operating costs, in the case of utility equipment).
Leasing has historically taken two forms – the finance lease (capital lease) and the operating lease. Under the finance lease, the risk and benefits of ownership are assumed by the lessee, which acquires the equipment for most of its economic life. Payments made during the term of the lease amortize the lessor’s cost of purchasing the equipment, financing costs, and a reasonable profit. Under an operating lease, economic ownership and all related rights and responsibilities remain with the lessor. Full amortization of the original value is not planned, and the resale risk is borne by the lessor.
The operating lease structure can have distinct tax advantages for the lessee, in that it typically qualifies as off-balance sheet financing under current accounting standards. However, significant changes to lease accounting rules currently under consideration by FASB and IASB would effectively eliminate operating lease accounting treatment.
Other Factors that Impact Project Financing
In addition to the alternative financing methods described above, a number of incentives and subsidies for utility efficiency projects are available from vendors, utilities and governmental entities that may reduce capital requirements to the level where conventional or alternative financing is more manageable or in some cases not required at all. These incentives and subsidies tend to vary significantly over various municipalities and utility company regions, but are worth exploring in depth since they can significantly improve project ROI and minimize owner/investor risk.
Table 2, below, provides an initial summary of the advantages and disadvantages of the individual financing methods discussed in this article.
Table 2. Advantages and Disadvantages of Individual Methods of Alternative Financing
General Advantages of Alternative Financing for Utility Efficiency Projects at Hotels
Alternative financing for utility efficiency projects can be more appealing to hotel and lodging owners than conventional financing for several reasons. These are briefly explored below.
Conservation of Capital. With most of the methods of alternative financing discussed in this article, established lines of credit are not used to purchase capital assets. This allows the hotel owner to use working capital for other business needs such as guest facing improvements – which owners are oftentimes more willing to finance via conventional debt.
Better Managed Cash Flow. The lower operating costs of modern, efficient equipment (along with decreased repair and maintenance costs) can provide for an immediately positive cash flow. With several of the alternative financing methods, all of the soft costs and hard costs of equipment retrofits can be rolled into a “turn-key” solution. Additionally, the monthly payments can be matched to the costs savings, thereby helping hotel owners better manage operating cost pressures.
Tax Advantages. Several of these alternative financing mechanisms may qualify as off-balance sheet financing pursuant to GAAP and IFRS / IAS. In these situations, the payments can be treated as pre-tax operating expenses, thereby reducing total tax liability. This may be subject to change under the rulemaking changes under consideration by FASB and IASB discussed earlier in this article.
Potential for Higher Capitalized Property Valuation. The installation of more efficient energy equipment can significantly reduce operating expenses, which in turn provides for greater gross operating profitability. Owners who conduct detailed financial analyses may discover that the economics actually favor installation of projects with extended payback times (even past ownership horizons) in certain situations.
Enhanced Facility Management. Most hotel owners are aware that newer, more efficient HVAC systems and building envelope improvements have the potential to provide for significantly improved indoor environmental quality, which facilitates an improved guest experience and reduce operational risk. Nonconventional financing may also make a more holistic project possible – thereby eliminating the need for ongoing maintenance expenses and/or numerous smaller projects funded out of operating budgets which can impact the guest experience over a much longer duration.
Challenges Associated with Alternative Financing Models
Although nonconventional methods of financing utility efficiency projects can be attractive from both an investment and facility ownership standpoint, there are nevertheless significant challenges in applying these models effectively at a large number of hotel properties worldwide. Several of the most critical challenges are outlined below:
Demonstrating that Alternative Financing Methods Are Viable for Hotels. Although alternative financing methods have been used successfully for decades in the public sector, a critical mass of projects has not moved forward at hospitality properties to date. HVS believes that the preliminary success of pilot initiatives which utilize several of the financing methods described in this article may ultimately stimulate a greater number of these projects at hotels and resorts worldwide.
Transaction Complexities and Costs. Alternative methods of financing can be complex from a financial, legal, tax, and risk perspective. Because these methods are largely unfamiliar to hospitality owners, the due diligence required can be both expensive and daunting. Transaction costs can also hinder the financial viability of smaller, individualized projects, instead favoring higher-cost projects at large box real estate or multiple project implementation across a portfolio of properties. As these methods are proven viable, however, transactional burdens would be anticipated to decrease.
Monitoring Performance Over Time. With shared savings, power purchase, and other alternative financing agreements, the monitoring of utility consumption and system performance over time is critical in determining the success of the project and the resulting return on investment for both the building owner and the financier. The potential for disputes regarding the financial efficacy of the project can decrease the number of projects that move forward.
Sharing of Financial Gains from Projects. With most of these alternative financing methods, the property owner shares in the savings realized with a third-party investor. Hotel ownership entities that are well capitalized and have long-term investment goals for their properties may be better served by self-funding utility efficiency projects or negotiating for as much of the savings as possible - to optimize returns resulting from the improvements.
Availability of Traditional Debt Financing. Although the hotel owner may not be directly exposed to traditional debt markets as a component of participating in these alternative funding scenarios, the initial capital outlay for alternative financing of utility retrofits is oftentimes still conventional debt. If debt financing is not available or is costly, it can limit the potential success and efficacy of many of the alternative financing approaches discussed in this paper. Institutional lenders have historically been slow to embrace new or emerging financing mechanisms, and extended due diligence periods for these types of transactions are typical.
Lack of Universal Approach. The availability of the alternative financing methods described in this paper is very different in many locations based on geography, utility company structure, commodity rates, regulatory regime, and other localized factors. Therefore, the research and due diligence required may be very different in individualized locations, thereby reducing the potential of completing projects across a portfolio of properties with a single approach that has been vetted and approved by ownership.
Each of the alternative financing methods discussed in this article have potential applicability to the hospitality sector. Given the high diversity in hotel building types, ownership goals, and general availability of each of these financing methods, HVS suggests that “one size does not fit all.” A variety of approaches will need to be explored to best meet the business needs of individual owners and properties.
Over the next several months, HVS will be publishing detailed articles on several of these alternative financing methods with the most relevance and applicability to the hospitality sector. Our next article, authored jointly by HVS and the National Association of Energy Service Companies (NAESCO), will provide detail on ESCO companies and discuss how hoteliers can engage these groups for performance-based contracting.
HVS Sustainability Services monitors conventional and alternative financing methods for utility efficiency projects and collaborates with hotel owners and managers to implement projects that align with strategic business goals and ownership objectives. Contact us to learn more about our specialized business services for hotel owners, operators, and developers.
HVS would like to extend our appreciation to the following organizations for their support in the preparation of this article:
National Association of Energy Service Companies (NAESCO), the national trade organization of 80 companies involved in the finance and implementation of energy equipment and services. www.naesco.org.
SCIenergy, a provider of Managed Energy Service Agreement (MESA) financing and software solutions. www.scienergy.com
Metrus Energy, a provider of Efficiency Services Agreement (ESA) financing. www.metrusenergy.com
The Carbon War Room, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to global reduction of carbon emissions through market-based solutions. www.carbonwarroom.com
About Kevin A. Goldstein
Kevin A. Goldstein, Vice President of HVS Sustainability Services, has provided guidance on environmental and regulatory affairs and corporate social responsibility initiatives to hospitality owners, operators, and developers. Prior to joining HVS, Kevin was the development director for a design/build company where he led multidisciplinary teams responsible for project feasibility, investment structuring, design, entitlements, and construction. Kevin previously consulted for the U.S. federal government on high-level environmental policy, and has been an active participant in international policy via the United Nations consultative process. He holds a Masters in Policy from the University of Delaware.
HVS is the world’s leading consulting and services organization focused on the hotel, restaurant, shared ownership, gaming, and leisure industries. Established in 1980, the company performs more than 2,000 assignments per year for virtually every major industry participant. HVS principals are regarded as the leading professionals in their respective regions of the globe. Through a worldwide network of 30 offices staffed by 400 seasoned industry professionals, HVS provides an unparalleled range of complementary services for the hospitality industry. For further information regarding our expertise and specifics about our services, please visit www.hvs.com.
HVS Sustainability Services provides a range of business-driven consulting services that enable hospitality firms to identify cost savings opportunities, enhance operational efficiency, and demonstrate a positive commitment to the environment to guests, investors, and other relevant stakeholders. HVS works directly with owners and operators to evaluate the business case for capital investment into environmental technologies. Our core business services include benchmarking, auditing, project implementation support, training, certification, and strategic advisory.
Kevin A. Goldstein
Vice President of HVS Sustainability Services
+1 305 343-9004