Earnings season is mostly over for the solar industry, but that doesn't mean there wasn't a lot of important news for investors this week. Courts may have pushed out a ruling on the all-important Clean Power Plan; North Carolina may be taking aim at solar; and SunEdison (OTC:SUNEQ) may be headed for liquidation.
Clean Power Plan's day in court pushed back
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decided not to hear arguments in the case against the EPA's Clean Power Plan in two weeks, and will instead hear the case in September in front of the full court, or at least the nine judges who haven't recused themselves.
This could speed up the appeals process, which will likely end up in front of the Supreme Court, by eliminating a step of appeal from the three-judge panel to the full court. And it could mean the full court's ruling has more weight when it comes down, especially considering there are only eight judges currently on the Supreme Court, who are likely to deadlock.
The Clean Power Plan could be a huge tailwind for the solar industry, as states decide how much renewable energy they're going to install to reduce emissions to meet its targets. So anything that moves its timeline up could be good for the solar industry long term.
North Carolina's solar market may be in trouble
It's not getting a lot of attention, but a bill has been brought forward in the North Carolina legislature that would all but kill the solar industry in the state. It would put restrictions on where solar power plants could be built, requiring a 1.5-mile setback from property lines, making it all but impossible to build solar plants economically. There's also a proposal to require developers to guarantee the future cost of decommissioning a project.
The impact on the solar industry could be huge because North Carolina was the No. 2 state in terms of solar MW installed in both 2014 and 2015. According to GTM Research, 1,134 MW of the 7,260 MW installed in the U.S. in 2015 went up in North Carolina. The loss of a market that big would be bad for everyone in the solar industry, so it's worth watching where this bill goes from here.
Nevada puts grandfathering net metering on the table
When SolarCity (NASDAQ:SCTY.DL) and Sunrun (NASDAQ:RUN) abandoned Nevada late in 2015 after the state's regulators changed net metering rules, they lost a lot of growth potential. But the more damaging thing could have been that not all customers who had solar prior to the end of 2015 were grandfathered into net metering, which could mean they would be underwater on solar systems under new rules.
This week, the Technical Advisory Committee on Distributed Generation and Storage passed a motion to grandfather customers into net metering, and if it moves forward, the regulation could be included in an energy bill next year. If passed, it would reduce the risk of Nevada customers defaulting, and keep SolarCity and Sunrun from losing too much more money in the state. It's not going to bring the companies back to Nevada to install new systems, but it could be a step in the right direction.
SunEdison may be liquidating
SparkSpread reported this week that SunEdison is preparing to liquidate assets as part of its bankruptcy plan. Rothschild, the company's restructuring agent, is reportedly soliciting bids for parts of the portfolio, some of which is still under development.
Depending on how projects are liquidated, this could be a great opportunity for healthy developers and yieldcos to buy assets on the cheap. NRG Yield (NYSE:CWEN) is a natural fit for some of these assets, and with a 6% dividend yield, it has among the lowest costs of capital in the yieldco space. Utilities could also be interested if the price is right.
One big unknown is the fate of the pipeline of wind and solar projects that SunEdison had power purchase agreements on but hadn't begun constructing. We could see healthy developers like First Solar, SunPower, and Canadian Solar swoop in to buy some of those assets if contracts allow for sales and terms are attractive. Or we could see those contracts go back into the utility queue for rebidding.
The next few months will see a lot of assets hit the market as SunEdison's creditors pick over the scraps of the company that are left. Given its former position as the largest renewable energy developer in the world, an all-out liquidation could leave competing developers in an even stronger position.