In September, the State of Hawaii Department of Taxation issued a letter ruling (Hawaii Letter Ruling No. 2018-01) that clarified the “placed in service” requirement in the application of the Renewable Energy Technologies Income Tax Credit (“RETITC”) in Hawaii.  A project was denied RETITC in the year when testing was conducted because the project had not obtained all legal permits and did not satisfy certain legal requirement.

Taxpayer contracted with an installer to build a commercial solar system.  The system was turned on for testing in 2017.  The testing was successful except that Taxpayer had not installed a fence around outdoor electrical property as required by the building and electrical codes.  The inspector refused to sign off and advised Taxpayer to build the fence.  The fence was installed in January 2018.

In Hawaii, RETITC is issued to renewable energy systems that are “installed and placed in service” during the taxable year.[i]  A system must be “ready and available for its specific use” to be considered properly “installed and placed in service.”[ii]  Citing the U.S. Tax Court’s decision on federal investment tax credits,[iii] the ruling provides that use of the system during construction generally does not satisfy the placed-in-service requirement.  The ruling provides that typically the government’s approval to operate a system indicates that the system has been placed in service.  When either facts are not clear or the taxpayer does not have all information regarding the permitting process, the Department will analyze five factors: 1) whether the necessary permits and licenses for operation have been obtained; 2) whether critical preoperational testing has been completed; 3) whether the taxpayer has control of the facility; 4) whether the unit has been synchronized with the transmission grid; and 5) whether daily or regular operation has begun.  None of the factors is dispositive.

The ruling provides that except for the fourth factor, which does not apply to Taxpayer’s system, only the second factor supports a granting of RETITC to Taxpayer’s system in 2017.  The first factor indicates that the system must be compliant with all applicable laws.  As Taxpayer’s system did not have a fence as required, this factor was only satisfied in 2018.  Taxpayer had physical control of the system after construction was completed in 2017, but the indicia of physical and legal control were enhanced in 2018 with the installation of fencing and the approval of all required permits.  Taxpayer could not establish a time when regular operation of the system started.  The ruling provides that regular operation could not legally had begun before all necessary permits were obtained.  Therefore, the system could not have commenced operation before 2018.  The ruling concludes that the second factor was outweighed by the other factors and, therefore, the system was placed in service in 2018.

The “specific use” standard provided in the Hawaii Administrative Rules and the five-factor test provided in the ruling are analogous to the standard and test the U.S. Treasury and the IRS adopted with respect to federal investment tax credits.[iv]  In the Department’s ruling, obtaining governmental approval and permits on time is critical.  Although the testing for the system was conducted in 2017 and the system was transferred to Taxpayer’s control in 2017, the Department refused to allow the RETITC with respect to the system until it satisfied the fencing requirement in 2018.

[i] Haw. Rev. Stat. § 235-12.5(a).

[ii] Haw. Admin. Rules § 18-235-12.5-01(a)(3).

[iii] See Noell v. Comm’r, 66 T.C. 718, 729 (1976).

[iv] See Treas. Reg. §§ 1.46-3(d)(1)(ii), 1.167(a)-11(e)(1)(i); see Sealy Power, Ltd. v. Comm’r, 46 F.3d 382, 395 (5th Cir. 1995), nonacq. 1996-1 C.B. 6 and A.O.D., 1995-10 (Aug. 7, 1995); Consumers Power v. Comm’r, 89 T.C. 710, 725-26 (1987); Oglethorpe Power Corp. v. Comm’r, 60 T.C.M. 850, 860 (1990).

In 2017, Maryland, with Governor Larry Hogan’s (R) support, became the first state in the country to launch a tax credit program for energy storage systems.  In September, 2018, Maryland Energy Administration adopted new regulations that clarified certain qualifications of eligible systems and established procedures for individuals and businesses to apply for tax credits.

The program will grant tax credits to taxpayers that install energy storage systems between January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2022.  The amount of tax credits granted from this program will not exceed 30 percent of the total installed costs of the energy storage system.  The amount of tax credits granted for a system installed on residential property is further capped at $5,000.  The cap amount of a system installed on commercial property is $75,000.  The tax credits will be granted on a first-come, first-served basis and are subject to a maximum limit of $750,000 each year.  Unused credits from this program cannot be carried forward or backward to offset taxpayers’ tax liability in another taxable year.  Please click here to read more on the original Senate Bill and our observations about the incentive tax credit program.

The regulations clarified that an energy storage system is a system that stores electrical, mechanical, chemical or thermal energy for use as electricity at a later date or to offset electricity use at peak times.[i]

The regulations set forth certain safety and operational requirements for qualifying systems.  Qualifying systems must use equipment certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory and must be installed in Maryland.[ii]  If the system is an electric system, it must also be installed by a licensed electrician, be in compliance with all applicable building and fire codes and, if applicable, be compliant with Maryland regulations regarding interconnection with the electric utility grid.[iii]

Qualifications for these systems may be adjusted by the Administration across program years.[iv]

Both individual and business taxpayers can participate in this program.[v]  Businesses must be formed as associations or joint-stock companies to be eligible.[vi]  Taxpayers must provide information requested by the Administration in the application process.  The Administration has the sole discretion in determining what information to request.  Taxpayers may be asked to provide their names, addresses and contact information or those of their representatives, estimated gross income or revenue, estimated tax liabilities, physical addresses of the property, proof of ownership of the property, description of the proposed energy storage systems, explanation of how the proposed systems offset electricity when discharging, information on the developers or installers, whether the proposed systems will participate in wholesale energy markets, estimated costs of the proposed systems, expected life of the proposed systems, anticipated in-service dates of the proposed systems, anticipated capacity factor of the proposed systems, energy storage duration, the amount of energy that can be stored in the proposed systems, the rate of energy flux per unit of area of the proposed systems,  documentation verifying that the proposed systems are in service, among other information.[vii]

Taxpayers that have already claimed a tax credit in this program are not eligible for additional tax credits from this program for the same taxable year.[viii]  Addresses, including multifamily properties, where tax credits were already claimed in this program are ineligible for additional tax credits from this program in all taxable years.[ix]  Electric vehicles are ineligible for this program.[x]

[i] Md. Regs. Code § 14.26.07.04(A).

[ii] Md. Regs. Code § 14.26.07.04(B), (C).

[iii] Id.

[iv] Md. Regs. Code § 14.26.07.04(D).

[v] See Md. Regs. Code § 14.26.07.01.

[vi] Md. Regs. Code § 14.26.07.03(B)(4); Md. Code Ann., Tax-General § 10-101(c).

[vii] Md. Regs. Code § 14.26.07.07(A).

[viii] Md. Regs. Code § 14.26.07.05(B).

[ix] Md. Regs. Code § 14.26.07.05(C).

[x] Md. Regs. Code § 14.26.07.05(D).