New Policies Fill Gaps in Green Energy
Ambitious underwriters are learning to make hay while the sun does not shine. And when the wind does not blow, and the rain does not fall on watersheds.
For years, the intermittent nature of nature vexed the green energy industry. Until recently it was addressed as a technical problem of storage and backup generation.
But recently, several insurers developed coverage that offer a financial recovery approach. To be sure, the demand is coming primarily from lenders and capital investors that back green power projects. The effect, if the markets grow, will be to help normalize both power and profitability.
While the mechanisms for the new programs are new, financial weather instruments are not, said Michael J. Perron, senior vice president for Northeast property placement at Willis Towers Watson, and a 2016 Risk & Insurance Power Broker® in the alternative utilities category.
“Wind productivity was down over the last couple of years, and banks are requiring some type of protection from insureds. The industry has these wind curves and they are just not performing.”
Generators themselves are not yet asking for coverage, said Perron, “but banks are saying, ‘your charts are nice but we need protection.’
“Risk managers at the generators may feel very comfortable with the long-term performance, but banks are asking for more. In some cases the lenders or investors are named as loss payee.”
In general, Perron said, the new demands from backers and the coverage being offered to meet them is beneficial in direction, if not always in degree.
“We do push back on occasion,” he said.
Using an analogy from earthquake coverage, he noted that “we had one client for which the bank demanded $100 million of protection. We modeled the case and found that the 500-year event would cost $20 million so we suggested buying $35 million in coverage.”
Weather Risk Transfer
Underwriter GCube brought its “weather risk transfer mechanism” to North America to respond to “increasing demand from U.S. project-financed wind operators, notably those refinancing or going through acquisitions,” the company stated.
“Utilities and independent power producers have directly cited below-par wind resources as a contributing factor to net losses in 2015 and the first quarter of this year,” it said.
“This financial underperformance, if left unchecked, threatens to undermine the reputation of wind energy as a low-risk, reliable investment — particularly with the emergence of new investors with less tolerance to lower returns.”
“There can be a straight trigger payment, or more complex arrangements more like a cash flow swap or collar.”– Bill Hildebrand, executive vice president, GCube
The basic concept, said Bill Hildebrand, executive vice president of GCube Insurance Services, is a contract with wind or hydro power generators. If the wind or rain is insufficient for the generators to provide the power that they have contracted to deliver, then parametric triggers would result in a payment under the contract.
“We are seeing increased requirements from insureds on behalf of their capital providers for revenue certainty,” said Hildebrand.
“At the same time, we have had carriers come to us with contracts they would like to distribute. Weather insurance has been around for a long time with the same interest in consistency and smoothing of revenue. What is new is this type of flexible contract that we are bringing on behalf of the capacity behind us.”
GCube is using Lloyd’s syndicate papers for backing. As a result contracts can be made on different terms.
“There are options,” said Hildebrand.
“There can be a straight trigger payment, or more complex arrangements more like a cash flow swap or collar.”
The contracts are being offered only to wind and hydro generators, not solar at this point. That is for two reasons: Solar has not seen the dips that the other green energy types have, and because the performance data on solar is not as extensive.
Early in May, a consortium of carriers executed a 10-year proxy revenue swap with a large U.S.-based wind farm. The arrangement allows for hedging wind volume risks for wind farms, to try to ensure stable revenues despite uncertainty of intermittent wind.
Advances in risk modeling and maturity of risk appetite were credited with making the deal more long-term in scope.
The 10-year agreement is designed to secure long-term predictable revenues and mitigate power generation volume uncertainty related to wind resources for the 100-plus MW farm.
But solar is not being neglected. Early in May, specialty insurer Sciemus launched a policy to protect the owners of solar farms against a lack of sunlight.
The policy pays if levels of sunshine fall below an agreed amount, and it is available as a hedging instrument for solar farm operators for up to 10 years.
Other lack of sun insurance schemes are available, but they are tied into property damage programs, experts said. The Sciemus insurance can be purchased as a stand-alone.
The insurance is index-linked and pays a fixed price per unit of lost sunlight at the end of each 12-month period. It is calculated on the sunlight either at the solar farm or at the nearest weather station.
The coverage is available in Europe and North America, and Sciemus plans to roll it out into the Middle East and North Africa later this year.
‘Among the Largest Catastrophe Losses in Canadian History’
About 2,400 structures in and around Fort McMurray lie in ruins in the middle of 700 charred square miles of northern Alberta.
The oil sands boom town, once known as “Fort Make Money,” is now going to cost money — at least $4 billion (C$5 billion) by early estimates — to rebuild after a monster wildfire swept around and through parts of town the first week of May.
The immediate insurance question is not the property loss in town; that is quite straightforward.
Rather, it is the length of the oil sands outage and two stages of business-interruption (BI) claims: immediate losses for the time out of operation, as well as possible contingent losses for refiners that rely on the oil sands for raw materials.
At the peak of the fire, 1 million barrels a day of oil sands production was taken out of service — about 40 percent of total output, and roughly one-quarter of all Canadian oil production.
Some operations have already airlifted in skeleton crews to begin safety checks in advance of resuming operations, but the bulk of production is expected to remain out of service for several weeks, if not a month or more.
The wildfires “will be a huge BI event,” said Paul Cutbush, senior vice president catastrophe management at Aon Benfield Analytics in Toronto.
“Even with no damage we will have to see when workers are allowed to come back — and then how many and how soon. A lot of these facilities have been used for evacuations, a goodwill gesture. A great deal will depend on manuscript wording for each policy.”
Waiting periods for BI claims will likely not be as large a factor as in past large losses, Cutbush noted. “It used to be that 90 days was standard. Today, that is shorter, 60 days, maybe even just 30.”
It may take longer than that to get claims sorted, because the size and scope of the fire has presented so many new unknowns.
“The biggest thing is getting people back to work,” said Cutbush, but they need places to live and shop.
“It is our understanding that a lot of the housing in the area was rental or temporary housing for oil sands and services workers.” That means not just property claims for the assets themselves, but lost value from their revenue.
Utilities and infrastructure also have to be inspected, repaired or replaced.
The fires continue to rage uncontrolled, but are now in the deep boreal forest south and east of town. The evacuation order and state of emergency for the area remained in effect as of May 11.
During a press tour through the town, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley gave the first official estimate of initial recovery time: “First responders and repair crews have weeks of work ahead of them to make the city safe. I’m advised that we will be able to provide a schedule for return within two weeks.”
Official numbers said 88,000 people, were evacuated, but a local source puts the number closer to 100,000, counting transient workers.
Remarkably, there has been no loss of life, not even any major injuries. And the vast oil sands mining and processing operations that sprawl for more than 100 miles in every direction around Fort McMurray were undamaged.
On May 10, Notley met with industry officials and was told the operations were secure.
“The magnitude of the current destruction suggest that the new fires will generate among the largest catastrophe losses in Canadian history, affecting both personal and commercial property writers,” according to an initial evaluation by the ratings agency Moody’s.
“I suspect some of the [energy companies’ insurance] coverage may be on the lean side.” — Jason Mercer, assistant vice president and analyst, Moody’s
“Early estimates of the wildfires peg the cost of damages rising to C$5 billion or around 1.5 percent of Alberta’s GDP — an estimate that could increase,” Moody’s reported.
“The Fort McMurray fires destroyed four times as many buildings as the Slave Lake [Alberta] wildfire of May 2011, which cost Canadian property and casualty insurers more than C$700 million in pretax losses.”
“Home and auto insurance coverage in Canada is substantially similar to that in the U.S.,” said Jason Mercer, assistant vice president and analyst at Moody’s in Toronto, who co-wrote the report.
“The only notable difference is that some lines, such as workers’ compensation, are typically government issued.”
BI is also similar in the two countries, Mercer noted. “There is named peril and all-risk. Both are available, but my sense is that all-risk is probably more difficult to get and more expensive, if only because of the higher number and cost of major losses in the province.
“More than half of the major losses in recent years in Canada have been in Alberta.”
Mercer also emphasized that the price of oil has been depressed for almost two years, leading some operators to tighten their belts – including insurance protection.
“I suspect some of the coverage may be on the lean side,” he said.
It will also depend whether companies have limited BI coverage — which would cover losses beginning with the evacuation and ending with the “all clear,” or extended coverage, which would “could run until there is a return to the profit level pre-event.”
Commercial Auto Warning: Emerging Frequency and Severity Trends Threaten Policyholders
The slow but steady climb out of the Great Recession means businesses can finally transition out of survival mode and set their sights on growth and expansion.
The construction, retail and energy sectors in particular are enjoying an influx of business — but getting back on their feet doesn’t come free of challenges.
Increasingly, expensive commercial auto losses hamper the upward trend. From 2012 to 2015, auto loss costs increased a cumulative 20 percent, according to the Insurance Services Office.
“Since the recession ended, commercial auto losses have challenged businesses trying to grow,” said David Blessing, SVP and Chief Underwriting Officer for National Insurance Casualty at Liberty Mutual Insurance. “As the economy improves and businesses expand, it means there are more vehicles on the road covering more miles. That is pushing up the frequency of auto accidents.”
For companies with transportation exposure, costly auto losses can hinder continued growth. Buyers who partner closely with their insurance brokers and carriers to understand these risks – and the consultative support and tools available to manage them – are better positioned to protect their employees, fleets, and businesses.
Liberty Mutual’s David Blessing discusses key challenges in the commercial auto market.
“Since the recession ended, commercial auto losses have challenged businesses trying to grow. As the economy improves and businesses expand, it means there are more vehicles on the road covering more miles. That is pushing up the frequency of auto accidents.”
–David Blessing, SVP and Chief Underwriting Officer for National Insurance Casualty, Liberty Mutual Insurance
More Accidents, More Dollars
Rising claims costs typically stem from either increased frequency or severity — but in the case of commercial auto, it’s both. This presents risk managers with the unique challenge of blunting a double-edged sword.
Cumulative miles driven in February, 2016, were up 5.6 percent compared to February, 2015, Blessing said. Unfortunately, inexperienced drivers are at the helm for a good portion of those miles.
A severe shortage of experienced commercial drivers — nearing 50,000 by the end of 2015, according to the American Trucking Association — means a limited pool to choose from. Drivers completing unfamiliar routes or lacking practice behind the wheel translate into more accidents, but companies facing intense competition for experienced drivers with good driving records may be tempted to let risk management best practices slip, like proper driver screening and training.
Distracted driving, whether it’s as a result of using a phone, eating, or reading directions, is another factor contributing to the number of accidents on the road. Recent findings from the National Safety Council indicate that as much as 27% of crashes involved drivers talking or texting on cell phones.
The factors driving increased frequency in the commercial auto market.
In addition to increased frequency, a variety of other factors are driving up claim severity, resulting in higher payments for both bodily injury and property damage.
Treating those injured in a commercial auto accident is more expensive than ever as medical costs rise at a faster rate than the overall Consumer Price Index.
“Medical inflation continues to go up by about three percent, whereas the core CPI is closer to two percent,” Blessing said.
Changing physical medicine fee schedules in some states also drive up commercial auto claim costs. California, for example, increased the cost of physical medicine by 38 percent over the past two years and will increase it by a total of 64 percent by the end of 2017.
And then there is the cost of repairing and replacing damaged vehicles.
“There are a lot of new vehicles on the road, and those cost more to repair and replace,” Blessing said. “In the last few years, heavy truck sales have increased at double digit rates — 15 percent in 2014, followed by an additional 11 percent in 2015.”
The impact is seen in the industry-wide combined ratio for commercial auto coverage, which per Conning, increased from 103 in 2014 to 105 for 2015, and is forecast to grow to nearly 110 by 2018.
None of these trends show signs of slowing or reversing, especially as the advent of driverless technology introduces its own risks and makes new vehicles all the more valuable. Now is the time to reign in auto exposure, before the cost of claims balloons even further.
The factors driving up commercial auto claims severity.
Data Opens Window to Driver Behavior
To better manage the total cost of commercial auto insurance, Blessing believes risk management should focus on the driver, not just the vehicle. In this journey, fleet telematics data plays a key role, unlocking insight on the driver behavior that contributes to accidents.
“Roughly half of large fleets have telematics built into their trucks,” Blessing said. “Traditionally, they are used to improve business performance by managing maintenance and routing to better control fuel costs. But we see opportunity there to improve driver performance, and so do risk managers.”
Liberty Mutual’s Managing Vital Driver Performance tool helps clients parse through data provided by telematics vendors and apply it toward cultivating safer driving habits.
“Risk managers can get overwhelmed with all of the data coming out of telematics. They may not know how to set the right parameters, or they get too many alerts from the provider,” Blessing said.
“We can help take that data and turn it into a concrete plan of action the customer can use to build a better risk management program by monitoring driver behavior, identifying the root causes of poor driving performance and developing training and other approaches to improve performance.”
Actions risk managers can take to better manage commercial auto frequency and severity trends.
Rather than focusing on the vehicle, the Managing Vital Driver Performance tool focuses on the driver, looking for indicators of aggressive driving that may lead to accidents, such as speeding, sharp turns and hard or sudden braking.
The tool helps a risk manager see if drivers consistently exhibit any of these behaviors, and take actions to improve driving performance before an accident happens. Liberty’s risk control consultants can also interview drivers to drill deeper into the data and find out what causes those behaviors in the first place.
Sometimes patterns of unsafe driving reveal issues at the management level.
“Our behavior-based program is also for supervisors and managers, not just drivers,” Blessing said. “This is where we help them set the tone and expectations with their drivers.”
For example, if data analysis and interviews reveal that fatigue factors into poor driving performance, management can identify ways to address that fatigue, including changing assigned work levels and requirements. Are drivers expected to make too many deliveries in a single shift, or are they required to interact with dispatch while driving?
“Management support of safety is so important, and work levels and expectations should be realistic,” Blessing said.
A Consultative Approach
In addition to its Managing Vital Driver Performance tool, Liberty’s team of risk control consultants helps commercial auto policyholders establish screening criteria for new drivers, creating a “driver scorecard” to reflect a potential new hire’s driving record, any Motor Vehicle Reports, years of experience, and familiarity with the type of vehicle that a company uses.
“Our whole approach is consultative,” Blessing said. “We probe and listen and try to understand a client’s strengths and challenges, and then make recommendations to help them establish the best practices they need.”
“With our approach and tools, we do something no one else in the industry does, which is perform the root cause analysis to help prevent accidents, better protecting a commercial auto policyholder’s employees and bottom line.”
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty Mutual Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.