I was a panelist at an event held at Mayer Brown’s New York office addressing Environmental, Social and Governance (“ESG”) investing on October 4.  On the panel, I addressed the tax benefits associated with certain ESG investments, with a focus on Qualified Opportunity Zone Funds and solar investment tax credits (ITC).  Here are the slides that I presented to describe each on a high level: Qualified Opportunity Zone and ITC Slides for ESG Event.

The solar ITC slides ignores tax equity structures and assumes outright ownership, so the numbers are a little simplified relative to many transactions in the market.

We are still waiting on Qualified Opportunity Zone regulations.  Currently, the regulations are being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget and are expected to be released any day.

On the solar front, we have heard from an IRS attorney that the IRS has resumed work on the regulations defining “energy property” for ITC purposes, but the regulations are not expected to be released until 2019.

 

Please join Mayer Brown and Alfa Energy Advisors for a webinar.  The webinar will address how tax reform is impacting the tax equity market and certain structures in particular.  Additional topics include:

  • The latest industry trends
  • New bonus depreciation rules and their impact on tax equity transactions and modeling
  • Compressed financing margins for wind and solar
  • Strategies for “starting construction” to qualify for the maximum investment tax credit and rules for transferring safe harbored equipment between wind projects
  • An overview of HLBV GAAP accounting for tax equity investments as a challenge for public companies

Register Here >>

CLE credit is available.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018          

United States

1:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. EDT

12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. CDT

11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. MDT

10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. PDT

Europe

8:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. CEST

7:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. BST

 

Below are soundbites from panelists from the Renewable Energy Finance Forum (“REFF”) Wall Street on June 19 and 20. The mood was upbeat.  There were many references to a “wall of cash chasing projects” as a metaphor for how competitive it is to win bids to finance or purchase projects.

The soundbites are edited for clarity and are organized by topic, rather than in chronological order.  They were prepared without the benefit of a transcript or recording.

The topics covered include the tax equity, debt and M&A markets, C&I solar, offshore wind, bonus depreciation, storage, YieldCos and others.

Tax Equity Market

“Solar tax equity is 30 to 38 percent of the capital stack of a project.  Wind tax equity is 47 to 62 percent of the capital stack of a project.”  – Managing Director, Boutique Investment Bank

“We are seeing a lot more wind.  We are using our tax equity capacity in wind in 2018.  Solar is looking good for 2019 and beyond.”  Managing Director, Trust Company

“This year we will invest more in wind than in solar.” – Managing Director, Money Center Bank

“We are seeing tax equity portfolios that are seasoned trade in a secondary market.  [Generally These are tax equity portfolios] that haven’t flipped on time or that [have the benefit of material cash distributions] but not tax” credits.  – Managing Director, American Multinational Financial Services Company

“There is more tax equity now than there was before tax reform.”  Managing Director, REIT

“2018 is a slow down due to tax reform and tariffs.”  Managing Director, National Bank

“There is a lot less tax equity capacity due to the lower tax rate.” – Managing Director, American Multi-National Investment Bank

[Explained: there may be more tax equity investors in the market than last year; however, last year the corporate tax rate was 35 percent, and this year it is 21 percent, so a typical tax equity investor has 40 percent less tax appetite (and ability to invest in tax equity) in 2018 than it did in 2017.]

“If you are in BEAT [(i.e., the base erosion anti-avoidance tax in enacted as part of 2018 tax reform)], you cannot compete in tax equity.  A couple of investors were hit with BEAT and exited.” – Managing Director, American Multi-National Investment Bank

“We get ten requests for tax equity a week and say ‘yes’ to less than one a week.  We have to prioritize opportunities.”  – Managing Director, American Multi-National Investment Bank Continue Reading Renewable Energy Finance Forum Wall Street Soundbites: the Tax Equity, Debt and M&A Markets, etc.

We have published our Legal Update on the Federal Circuit’s opinion in the Alta Wind case involving the calculation of eligible basis for 1603 Treasury cash grant purposes.  The 1603 Treasury cash grant rules “mimic” the investment tax credit (ITC) rules, so the case has implications for ITC transactions being structured and end executed today.  Our Legal Update is available here.


If you would like to read the Federal Circuit’s opinion, it is available here.

A Word About Wind has published my article about offshore wind in the United States as part of its Legal Power List 2018 special report.  The article discusses how offshore wind projects, such as Vineyard Wind, have certain advantages over onshore wind, particularly with respect to tax credits for storage.  Here is a link to the special report; alternatively, if you are not a member of A Word About Wind, we are pleased to make the offshore wind article available.

We have published our whitepaper: Gain Deferral Using Qualified Opportunity Zone Investment Strategies Legal Update.  “Qualified Opportunity Zones” are not specific to renewable energy and do not involve tax credits but provide a powerful new tax benefits as a result of their enactment last year as part of the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.”

The whitepaper discusses Qualified Opportunity Zones generally.  Two aspects of them are of note to the renewable energy industry.  First, the statutory language appears to apply to ordinary and capital gains (the IRS may take a different view in its guidance).  The applicability to ordinary gains means that the Qualified Opportunity Zone rules could be used by developers to defer the tax gain they recognized on sales of projects to tax equity partnerships or lessors.

Second, the intersection of the Qualified Opportunity Zone rules and the partnership capital account rules requires clarification that we expect the IRS to provide in its guidance.  So the purchase by partnerships of solar projects in Qualified Opportunity Zones is a strategy that requires further guidance before the tax results can be certain.

 

In a letter dated May 8, 2018, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), in support of his state’s coal industry, urges the U.S. Department of Treasury (“Treasury”) to make significant changes to the existing “beginning of construction” guidance issued by the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) in a series of notices (“IRS Notices”).  The IRS Notices include industry-friendly safe harbors that provide wind developers with more certainty in determining the beginning-of-construction date of a project, which is relevant for determining the amount of the tax credit for wind production (“PTC”) for which a project may be eligible.  The changes advocated for by Sen. Paul are intended, in his words, to be a “step toward a more competitive energy market” and reverse the “expansion of the [PTC] far beyond the text and intent of what Congress passed.”

The proposed changes include:

  • Requiring a project to be placed in service within two years from the beginning of construction, rather than within the four-year window under the current guidance.
  • Prohibiting a project from establishing an earlier beginning-of-construction date through the use of “safe harbor” turbines that were relocated or transferred to the project.
  • Requiring continuous construction from the beginning-of-construction date until the project is placed in service.
  • Requiring physical work to establish the beginning of construction that is “significantly beyond” beginning excavation for a foundation, setting anchor bolts into the ground, pouring concrete pads into the foundation or building onsite roads.
  • Update the list of acceptable delays to the continuous construction requirement, perhaps by requiring an explicit waiver from Treasury.
  • Prohibit wind energy from qualifying for the PTC if the energy is sold into the market at a negative value.
  • Although we have no reason to think that any of these proposals will gain traction with Treasury, it is worth noting that at least one member of Congress has the PTC in his crosshairs.

Many developers of renewable energy projects have experienced higher than expected transaction costs.  There can be a wide range of reasons for such overages.  One all-too-common reason is project documents that cause tax tensions.  These tax tensions lead to more lawyer time, which leads to higher transactions costs.  Thus, developers concerned about transaction costs should negotiate “tax-friendly” project documents to streamline the tax equity investor’s diligence process.

Project documents are typically presented by the developer to the tax equity investor’s counsel in executed form.  Counsel then reviews these to ensure consistency with the tax analysis of the transaction and for other issues.  When counsel identifies an apparent glitch, she typically tries to rationalize or mitigate it without requesting an amendment to the project document in question.  That analysis can take some time.  If she cannot find another solution, she will propose an amendment.  It takes time to prepare the amendment and often more time to persuade the applicable counter-party to sign it.  That request can then lead the counter-party to propose alternative language and a time-consuming (i.e., expensive) back and forth process.

Below is a list of tax issues for developers to keep in mind as they negotiate project documents.  The list is intended to provide trail markers for the most direct path for developers who would like to streamline the tax diligence process (and the associated costs) for their project documents. The list is not intended to be all-inclusive.  Further, the list is not to suggest that missing one or more of these is necessarily fatal to the tax analysis because (i) there are often multiple paths to reach the desired tax outcome and (ii) some of these are best practices, rather than fatal flaws.  Below is generally intended for wind or ground mounted solar projects, as roof-mounted solar is a somewhat different animal.

There are typically five “project documents” (i) the power purchase agreement  (“PPA”) or other revenue contract; (ii) the site lease or other right (which is sometimes combined with the power purchase agreement) to use the ground or roof on which the project is constructed; (iii) the interconnecting agreement that enables the project to transmit its power to the grid; (iv) the operations and maintenance agreement; and (v) the construction contract. Continue Reading Lower Transaction Costs with Tax-Friendly Project Documents

On June 22, 2018, the IRS released Notice 2018-59 (the “Guidance”).  The Guidance provides rules to determine when construction begins with respect to investment tax credit (“ITC”) eligible property, such as solar projects.  The Guidance was much awaited by the solar industry because the date upon which construction begins governs the determination of the percentage level of the ITC, which is ratcheted down for projects that begin construction after 2019.

In addition to applying to solar and (fiber-optic solar), the Guidance applies to the following energy generation technologies: geothermal, fuel cell, microturbine, combined heat and power and small wind.

Overview of Beginning of Construction

The ITC percentage for a solar project is determined based on the year in which construction of the project begins, provided the solar project is also placed in service before January 1, 2024, as follows: (i) before January 1, 2020, 30%, (ii) in 2020, 26%, (iii) in 2021, 22% and (iv) any time thereafter (regardless of the year in which the solar project is placed in service), 10%.

The Guidance is quite similar to existing guidance for utility scale wind projects.  The utility scale wind guidance is discussed in our 2016 Update.  As expected and consistent with the wind guidance, the Guidance provides two means for establishing the beginning of construction of a solar project (and other ITC technology projects): (i) engaging in significant physical work either directly or by contract the “Physical Work Method”) or (ii) paying or incurring (depending on the taxpayer’s method of accounting) five percent of the ultimate tax basis of the project (the “Five Percent Method”).[1]  As is the case with wind, the Guidance provides that the IRS will apply strict scrutiny of the facts and circumstances to determine if the project was continuously constructed from the deemed beginning of construction date through the date the project is placed in service.[2]

Four Year Placed-in-Service Window

The wind guidance provides a four year window for the project to be completed and to avoid the scrutiny as to whether the construction was continuous.   There had been speculation that the window for solar (or at least some classes of solar) would be shorter because the time to construct solar projects (especially rooftop solar) is generally shorter than the time to construct a wind project.  In what is a relief to the solar industry, the Guidance provides solar, and the other ITC technologies, a four year window as well.        Continue Reading Beginning of Construction Guidance for Solar and Other ITC Technologies

On May 30, A Word About Wind held its first annual Financing Wind New York conference.  Tickets to the conference sold out and the attendees were generally wind pros with considerable experience.  The panelists provided many useful insights regarding the wind industry.

Below are soundbites from the conference.  They are organized by topic, rather than chronologically, and were prepared without the benefit of a transcript or a recording.

Offshore Wind

“Right now, globally there is 18 GW of offshore wind.”  — North American Leader, European Based Offshore Wind Developer

“Expecting 20 to 30 GW of offshore wind by 2030.  So that means a couple of gigawatts a year of offshore wind.”   — North American Leader, European Based Offshore Wind Developer

“Offshore wind can be very close to the load centers, 20 to 30 miles away from where people are actually using the electricity.  That makes offshore wind easier than onshore wind, which is now facing transmission challenges to get their power to where people actually use it.” — North American Leader, European Based Offshore Wind Developer

“The European model has been to have the local utility build out to the offshore wind.  In the US, the trend appears to be wind generators are responsible for getting their wind to shore.  I expect wind developers will end up paying for the grid connection.  There is a discrete set of permitting and risks building that connection 30 miles out in the water to the project.” – President, Transmission Developer

“Energy is politically driven, so having manufacturing facilities set up here in the US is very important.”   — North American Leader, European Based Offshore Wind Developer

“Energy policy is very much driven by the states.  However, the federal government under Trump has been supportive of offshore wind.  The Trump administration has taken on board streamlining the offshore wind permitting process and has been supportive of new offshore wind leases.”  — North American Leader, European Based Offshore Wind Developer Continue Reading Financing Wind New York Soundbites