For UK Hotels — A duty to reduce carbon emissions

(This article first appeared in Hotel Report.)

In April 2010, a new regime designed to improve energy efficiency and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by businesses will be implemented in the United Kingdom. As well as the large hotel chains, this will also affect owners of unbranded hotels that exceed the relevant electricity usage thresholds and all owners of branded hotels.

To be known as the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) scheme, it is a mandatory scheme and will apply to organizations whether in the public or private sector who have at least one electricity meter settled on the half hourly market and whose annual UK electricity usage exceeded 6,000 MWh which represents an annual electricity bill of roughly $985 million at current rates.

What is the CRC scheme?

Under the CRC scheme, participating organizations must purchase “allowances” sold by the government for each ton of carbon dioxide that they emit.  The initial price will be nearly$20 per ton. So there is a direct incentive for these organizations to reduce their emissions and therefore their energy bills.

Additionally, the better a participating organization performs at reducing its emissions, the higher its ranking in the annual performance league table that the Government plans to publish showing the comparative performance of all participants. Government proceeds from selling allowances will be handed back to those organizations that feature most highly in the league tables.

What constitutes an ‘organization’?

Group organizations will be treated as a single entity under the CRC scheme and all members of that group will be required to participate. There are two main groupings that constitute ‘organizations’:

  1. Corporate groups, i.e. all parent companies and subsidiaries, including subsidiaries of foreign parent companies; and
  2. Franchise groups, which include not only the franchisor’s corporate group, but also all franchisees of the franchisor.

It is important to note that there are significant financial penalties for non-compliance and liability for compliance with the CRC scheme will be joint and several and attach to all entities within the CRC organization.

The implication for the hotel industry

The implications depend on whether the hotel in question is leased, managed or franchised. Whilst a managed hotel is distinguished from a franchised hotel in the hotel industry, any managed hotel that is operated under the manager’s brand will be treated as part of a franchise for the purposes of the CRC scheme.

Leased hotels

Under a standard lease, a hotel operator as tenant is likely to be the counterparty to the energy contract in place as opposed to the owner as landlord.  Under the CRC regime as currently envisioned, CRC liability for energy use will attach to the hotel operator itself if it is a single entity or where the hotel operating company is part of a group, all of the companies in the group (subject to certain exceptions) which together will constitute the CRC Organization.

In the less common situation where the landlord is the energy contract counterparty (perhaps where the hotel is part of a larger mixed-use building), then the CRC liability will reside with the landlord. The commercial lease arrangement between the landlord and the tenant will determine whether the landlord can recover the cost of the allowances through the service charge and/or whether the tenant is entitled to share in any rebates – the CRC regime does not govern this private matter.

Franchised or branded managed hotels

The definition of a franchisee is where the franchisee “presents or equips [the hotel] premises to a standard or specification which results in that premises having an internal appearance which is substantially uniform with premises belonging to other franchisees of that franchisor or of the franchisor itself.” This means that:

  1. The owner of a branded hotel is associated with the operator under the CRC scheme.
  2. The operator’s corporate group will be aggregated with all its franchisees’ hotels for the purposes of determining the ‘CRC Organization’.
  3. The parent of the operator’s group (or the UK group company nominated by the parent) will need to purchase allowances for the whole CRC Organization.
  4. The management agreement will need to determine whether the operator can recover the cost of purchasing allowances as an operating expense and, if so, how rebates given back to the CRC Organization will be re-credited to individual owners.

Unbranded managed hotels

Normally the owner will have the liability to purchase allowances, if it is large enough to qualify. However, if the manager has a single contract for electricity under a group-purchasing scheme for all hotels managed by it, and it pays the bill with a re-charge to owners, then the manager may become responsible for purchasing the allowances. If the manager contracts with the electricity provider, but merely as agent for the owner, then that contract will be considered to be the owner’s and the owner will be responsible for purchasing allowances.

Next steps for owners and operators

Hotel operators, who may be aware of the need to measure their own electricity usage in owned and leased hotels and their head offices, may need to ensure that they are in a position to measure usage of all UK hotels operated under one of their brands, whether on a managed or franchised basis. On the basis that no management agreements expressly deal with this issue, operators should ensure that they agree a protocol with their owners as to how the system will operate in terms of re-charging for allowances and re-crediting of rebates.

Owners of branded hotels should challenge their operators/franchisors to explain what they intend to do to minimize the cost of the scheme by maximizing emissions reductions and therefore the rebates available under the scheme.

There will also be implications for investors, purchasers and developers of hotels who, together with owners and operators, will need to seek advice on how the CRC scheme will affect their involvement in the sector.

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