Federal project finance programs on the rise

 

The U.S. government has recently increased funding for a number of programs offering credit assistance for a range of large-scale projects related to energy, infrastructure investment, and exports. Even before enactment of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA), the President’s 2023 Budget (“Budget”) indicated large increases in lending activity related to the programs discussed below. In addition to those heightened credit program levels, the IRA includes funds to support potentially hundreds of billions in loans for purposes such as clean energy technology commercialization, advanced technology vehicle manufacture, rural and tribal clean energy development, and energy infrastructure and transmission enhancement.

 

Grant Thornton has experience at the federal agencies and departments responsible for administering the programs discussed below and is seeking to help eligible firms successfully apply for and receive such funds. A separate article on keys to success in applying for these funds is forthcoming that will report on the pitfalls (e.g., misunderstanding of program requirements, application process and evaluation criteria) encountered by applicants for government credit assistance. We also intend to study and report on the operational challenges facing federal credit agencies given the present dynamic of flat administrative budgets and rapidly expanding loan portfolios. In addition, we plan to develop information and insights on the new and expanded financing programs included in the IRA.

 

The information below lists key project-finance related federal credit programs, provides hyperlinks to access details on program specifications, and reports on current and requested funding levels.
 

At the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), four credit programs exist to provide debt capital for decarbonization-related technologies: the Title XVII Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program (Title XVII), the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Loan Program (ATVM), the Tribal Energy Loan Guarantee Program (TELGP), and the Carbon Dioxide Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Program (CIFIA). Through those programs, DOE seeks to fill gaps in the financing continuum related to the commercialization of innovative energy technologies. 

  • Title XVII is intended to speed the commercialization of new or significantly improved clean-energy technologies. The Budget requests $5 billion in lending authority to support eligible projects. That funding is in addition to previously existing loan authority of nearly $20 billion. The IRA includes an additional $40 billion in lending authority for this program. While there have been few loans in recent years, the Budget forecasts heightened lending activity totaling about $6 billion in 2022 and $4.5 billion in 2023, with even greater levels possible in 2023 and beyond given the expanded program authority provided through the IRA.
  • ATVM is designed to provide low-cost debt capital for fuel-efficient vehicle and eligible component manufacturing in the United States. At the beginning of 2022, nearly $18 billion in lending authority was available for loans to firms engaged in the manufacture and support of clean car technologies. The IRA provides funding for roughly an additional $20 billion in lending under this program. The Budget forecasts substantial growth in lending under this program – which like Title XVII had been largely dormant in recent years – with loans totaling nearly $4.9 billion in 2022 and $12.9 billion in 2023. Like Title XVII, even greater levels are expected to occur in 2023 and beyond given the program’s expansion through the IRA.
  • TELGP is a loan guarantee program aimed at supporting economic opportunities to tribes through energy development projects and activities. DOE is authorized to guarantee up to $2 billion in loans to Indian Tribes for such projects. DOE has been actively working with applicants to originate loans under the program. While no lending occurred in 2021, the Budget forecasts TELGP credit assistance at $0.7 billion in 2022 and $0.5 billion in 2023. However, those amounts may increase dramatically given new funding provided for TELGP through the IRA. 
  • CIFIA is a new program established through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, authorizes DOE to issue loans, loan guarantees, and grants to support the development of carbon dioxide transportation infrastructure (e.g., pipelines). Expected to become operational by the end of the year, $2.1 billion in funding is available for loans and grants for eligible projects.

In addition to those programs, DOE received substantial funding through the IRA to support the financing of a variety of clean energy development and transmission activities. Over the next year, the department will begin to operationalize new programs designed to provide as much as $250 billion in loans or refinancing guarantees for energy infrastructure projects. Those projects could involve:

  • Retooling, repowering, repurposing, or replacing energy infrastructure no longer operating; or
  • Enabling existing energy infrastructure to avoid, reduce, utilize, or sequester air pollutants and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which would be defined as including carbon dioxide, hydrofluorocarbons, methane, nitrous oxide, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride.

The IRA also provides funding for DOE to provide direct loans to borrowers to construct or modify electric transmission facilities deemed necessary to the national interest. Loan terms cannot last longer than either 90% of the projected useful life of a facility or 30 years—whichever is shorter. Loans also cannot exceed 80% of a project’s cost.

 

The Rural Development mission area of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has funding available for a variety of purposes related to rural development.

  • Rural Utilities Service provides grants and loans to support the distribution of rural electrification, telecommunications, distance learning, and broadband infrastructure systems. More than $5 billion in financing assistance was provided in 2021 and the President’s 2023 Budget forecasts lending activity to increase to nearly $6.5 billion in 2022 and $9.5 billion in 2023.
  • Other Rural Development programs offer loans and loan guarantees to communities for a range of purposes such as constructing vital facilities (e.g., healthcare clinics, police stations, water systems) and supporting infrastructure development to strengthen the rural economy and bolster employment opportunities. In 2021, USDA provided nearly $3 billion for community facility and water/wastewater loans. The Budget indicated similar levels of lending activity in 2022 and beyond. 

In addition, the IRA includes more than $20 billion to support USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation programs for environmental quality and stewardship incentives, and to fund the Rural Energy in America Program to provide loans and grants to agricultural producers and rural businesses for renewable energy systems, including funding specifically for underutilized technologies. Other USDA-related credit program initiatives funded through the IRA include loans to “distressed” borrowers whose agricultural operations are at financial risk, and for rural electrification loans (including for energy storage projects where as much as half a loan could be forgiven if certain conditions are met). Funds are also available through the IRA to support grants and loans to eligible entities to improve land access for underserved farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners, including those living in high poverty areas.

 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides credit assistance through its Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program which aims to accelerate investment in the Nation’s water infrastructure by providing long-term, low-cost supplemental loans for projects of regional or national significance. A relative newcomer to the project finance arena – EPA first started making loans in 2018 – the agency has already closed 88 loans totaling $15.3 billion for water infrastructure projects as of mid-2022, with about $6.7 billion of that amount loaned in 2021 and similar levels expected for both 2022 and 2023. EPA also operates a State infrastructure financing authority WIFIA (SWIFIA) program to support borrowers at the State level of government and is currently accepting letters of interest for 2022. While the IRA provides substantial funding for EPA to facilitate efforts across the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, most of that funding takes the form of grant programs designed for State, local and tribal governments.

 

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) provides debt financing and innovative financing methods to support critical transportation infrastructure projects. Its key programs include the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) and the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan programs. The Build America Bureau, within DOT, serves as a one-stop shop for States, municipalities, and other project sponsors seeking federal help to explore innovative financing approaches, apply for credit assistance, and better understand the use of public-private partnerships to address transportation needs.

  • TIFIA makes available loans, loan guarantees, and lines of credit to fill market gaps and leverage private co-investment by offering supplemental and subordinate capital to projects of national or regional significance (e.g., highway, transit, rail, intermodal, airport, and transit-oriented development projects). Lending totaled $9 billion in 2021 and is forecast in the Budget to increase to $11 billion for both 2022 and 2023.
  • RRIF is designed to provide loans or loan guarantees for projects that improve rail safety, enhance the environment, promote economic development, or enhance the capacity of the national rail network. Loan activity in the program was $0.9 billion in 2021 and is expected to total $0.6 billion for both 2022 and 2023.

The DOT receives funding through the IRA but none of that money is targeted for direct federal credit assistance. Instead, funds will be used to promote transportation equity through grants to states, local governments, territories, or transportation authorities.

 

Lastly, through an increasingly integrated suite of international credit programs, several federal agencies provide direct loans, loan guarantees, and insurance to a range of private sector borrowers. Such programs are designed to level the playing field for U.S. exporters, deliver support for U.S. goods and services, and promote sustainable development.

 

The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) – a new agency that brings together the previous capabilities of OPIC and USAID’s Development Credit Authority – provides loans, guarantees, and other investment tools such as equity and political risk insurance to facilitate and incentivize private-sector investment in emerging markets that will have a positive developmental impact, promote sustainable development, and meet national security objectives. The statute creating DFC – the Better Utilization of Investment Leading to Development Act (BUILD Act) – substantially expanded the financial assistance available from the U.S. government for international investment. The agency’s liability limit has been more than doubled to $60 billion (relative to OPIC) for various credit tools including local currency loans, first loss and loan guarantees. Nearly $5 billion in credit was extended through DFC programs in 2021 and lending activity is forecast in the Budget at $4 billion annually through 2023. In addition, the BUILD Act provides DFC with the authority to participate in equity deals – up to $21 billion – an authority previously unavailable to OPIC hindering its participation on complicated projects or in places where few firm have the capacity to take on additional debt.

 

The U.S. Export-Import Bank (ExIm) provides direct loans and loan guarantees for creditworthy foreign buyers to help secure export sales from U.S. exporters. It also offers working capital guarantees and export credit insurance to help U.S. exporters secure financing for overseas sales when strictly private financing is unavailable. Credit assistance through ExIm totaled $8.3 billion in 2021 and the Budget forecasts an increase in lending activity to $9.6 billion in 2022 and $15.5 billion in 2023.

 

USDA’s Export Credit Guarantee Programs (known as GSM programs) provide guarantees of payment from countries and entities that want to import U.S. agricultural products but cannot easily obtain credit. The GSM-102 program provides guarantees for credit extended with short-term repayment terms not to exceed 18 months. Lending activity is estimated at $5.5 billion in both 2022 and 2023, more than double the amount loaned in 2021.

 

We recently reported on new programs established at DOE focused on clean energy infrastructure, climate change and supply chains. We are continuing to monitor legislative developments on Capitol Hill along with administrative and regulatory actions at DOE and across each of the agencies listed above in rolling out new initiatives and managing credit program expansions. As noted above, Grant Thornton has deep hands-on experience with the federal agencies and departments responsible for the administration of these programs and is available for consultations with firms interested in exploring and successfully securing financing through such programs. Please feel free to reach out to any of the Grant Thornton professionals listed below for further information. 

 

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Frances Nwachuku

Arlington, Virginia

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