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The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a federally-owned laboratory that is funded through the U.S. Department of Energy, recently released a report titled Wind Energy Finance in the United States: Current Practice and Opportunities. The report provides a thorough overview of the capital sources and financing structures commonly used in wind energy finance. Below are quotes from the report that are of particular interest to tax equity market participants. We applaud the authors for writing a comprehensive report on a topic that is extremely technical.  Also, below we include comments clarifying certain tax or legal concepts referenced in particular quotes.

Wind Expansion in 2016

• By the end of 2016, cumulative U.S. wind generation capacity stood at 82.2 gigawatts (GW), expanding by 8.7 GW from 2015 installations levels. Wind energy added the most utility-scale electricity generation capacity to the U.S. grid in 2015 and the second most in 2016. Project investment in wind in the United States has averaged $13.6 billion annually since 2006 with a cumulative investment total of $149 billion over this time period. The investment activity demonstrates the persistent appeal of wind energy and its significant role in the overall market for electricity generation in the United States.

Future Outlook

• Looking ahead, the near-term outlook for wind energy reported previously suggests a continued need for capital availability at levels consistent with deployment seen in 2015 and 2016. The market has shown the capacity to finance projects at this level using current mechanisms at economically viable rates; however, increased deployment could necessitate new sources of capital. Broad changes to the financial industry—such as the possibility of major corporate tax reform, the currently scheduled phase out of the PTC and ITC for wind, and, specifically, a change in the role of tax equity—could fundamentally reshape the predominant mechanism for wind energy investment. It is possible that financing practices may need to evolve, while the growing body of wind energy deployment and operational experiences could help to attract new market participants.

PTC and Accelerated Tax Depreciation

• The United States Federal Government incentivizes renewable energy projects principally through the tax code. As of this writing, wind technologies are eligible to receive either the production tax credit (PTC) or the investment tax credit (ITC) (one or the other, but not both) as well as accelerated depreciation tax offsets through the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS).

The PTC

• The tax credit incentives (the PTC and ITC) provide an after-tax credit on tax liabilities (i.e., the taxes paid) and thus are often described as dollar-for-dollar tax incentives. As of this writing the PTC is currently worth $0.024 for every kWh generated over a 10-year period while the ITC is structured as a one-time credit valued at 30% of eligible system costs. For projects to claim the aforementioned full PTC or ITC values, however, the project is required to have begun construction prior to December 31, 2016. Projects that begin construction in 2017 through 2019 are available for a reduced-value PTC or ITC. Continue Reading NREL’s Wind Finance Report Highlights

Below is the text of an article we published in Law360 on September 14.  (The article is also available at Law360.)

On September 7, the Internal Revenue Service issued Revenue Procedure 2017-47 to provide a safe harbor for public utilities that inadvertently or unintentionally use a practice or procedure that is inconsistent with the so-called normalization rules. Before describing the revenue procedure, we first discuss the basics of normalization.

Normalization is an accounting system provided for by Treasury regulations that is used by regulated public utilities to reconcile the tax treatment of the investment tax credits (ITC) set forth in section 46 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 or accelerated depreciation of public utility assets under section 168 of the Code with their regulatory treatment.

Although the ITC generally was repealed with respect to “public utility property” (i.e., property that earns a regulated return set by a public utility commission (PUC) (which has different names in different states)) that was placed in service after 1985, normalization remains relevant with respect to the ITC due to the long economic useful lives of much public utility property. Thus, Revenue Procedure 2017-47 addresses the ITC, not because solar projects (or other renewable projects) that earn a regulated return would currently qualify for the ITC, but because public utility property up until 1985 qualified for the ITC and some of that property is still being used and included in utility rate-making calculations as described below.

Understanding normalization requires an understanding of certain fundamentals of rate-making for regulated utilities. As a general matter, a regulated utility is entitled to earn an after-tax return on its investments in its utility system. The PUC that regulates the utility then sets the rates paid by customers for the utility service (e.g., electricity) to allow the utility to earn that after-tax return on its investments. In setting those rates, the PUC must determine economic depreciation for the utility’s assets and “tax expense.” Continue Reading An IRS Lifeline To Public Utilities On Normalization

The U.S. Department of Energy recently released its 2016 Wind Technologies Market Report (available here). The 94-page report provides an in-depth review of the current health and direction of the wind industry, replete with data, analysis and projections. Below are quotes from the report that are of particular interest to participants in tax equity transaction.

Tax Equity Economics in 2016

• [According to AWEA in U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report: Year Ending 2016], [t]he U.S. wind market raised more than $6 billion of new tax equity in 2016, on par with the two previous years. Debt finance increased slightly to $3.4 billion. Tax equity yields drifted slightly higher to just below 8% (in unlevered, after-tax terms), while the cost of term debt fell below 4% for much of the year, before rising back above that threshold towards the end of the year.
• According to AWEA [in U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report: Year Ending 2016], roughly $6.4 billion in third-party tax equity was committed in 2016 to finance 5,538 MW of new wind projects. This total dollar amount is slightly higher than, but largely on par with, the amount of tax equity raised in both 2014 and 2015. Partnership flip structures remained the dominant tax equity vehicle, with indicative tax equity yields drifting slightly higher in 2016, to just below 8% on an after-tax unlevered basis. Continue Reading DOE’s 2016 Wind Market Report – Tax Equity Highlights

Our article AZ Companies Win Preferential Tax Treatment for Solar Panels was recently published in State Tax Notes.  The article analyzes a favorable opinion by the Arizona Supreme Court in a case brought by SolarCity and SunRun.  The Arizona Supreme Court that held that an Arizona law allowing taxpayers to attribute no value for property tax purposes to solar panels leased to customers did not violate the Arizona Constitution.

On May 11, 2017, Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) introduced the Offshore Wind Incentives for New Development Act or, simply, the Offshore WIND Act (here).  The Offshore WIND Act would extend the 30% investment tax credit (ITC) under Section 48 of the Internal Revenue Code (Code) for offshore wind through 2025. Continue Reading Wind in the Sails of Offshore Wind Farms: Recent Developments in Incentives for Offshore Wind Generation

On May 4, 2017, Maryland became the first state in the country to offer a tax credit for energy storage systems with Governor Larry Hogan’s (R) signing of Senate Bill No. 758 (available here).

The law provides a tax credit for certain costs of installing an energy storage system. Energy storage systems include systems used to store electrical energy, or mechanical, chemical, or thermal energy that was once electrical energy, for use as electrical energy at a later date or in a process that offsets electricity use at peak times. The tax credit is not limited to storage systems that are charged by renewable energy sources.[1]  The tax credit is up to $5,000 for a system installed on a residential property and the lesser of $75,000 and 30 percent of the cost of the energy storage system for a system installed on a commercial property (which presumably would include a utility). The tax credit would apply to systems installed between January 1, 2018, and December 31, 2022. The tax credit may only be used to offset Maryland income tax liability (i.e., it cannot be applied against other types of Maryland taxes such as excise tax) and may not be carried forward to another taxable year.  The law sets a limit of $750,000 on the aggregate tax credits issued to all taxpayers in a taxable year; such credits to be issued on a first-come, first-served basis. Continue Reading Maryland Enacts First in the Nation Energy Storage Tax Credit

First published by Law 360 on June 27, 2016

On April 21, 2016, Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo.,[1] introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives the Solar Expansion of Distributed Generation Exponentially Act (the Solar EDGE Act) to provide a two-year increase in the credit available under Section 25D and Section 48 of the Internal Revenue Code for certain solar energy property that has a nameplate capacity of less than 20 kilowatts.[2]

Section 25D of the code provides a tax credit (residential solar tax credit) to individuals for expenditures for property which uses solar energy to generate electricity for use in a dwelling unit located in the United States and used as a residence[3] by the taxpayer (qualified solar electric property expenditures). Continue Reading Bill to Increase Solar Tax Credits Highlights Inconsistent Standard for Residential Credit

First Published by Law 360 on May 27, 2016

Below is a link to our article discussing IRS Notice 2016-31, which the IRS published in May.  Notice 2016-31 provides helpful rules for wind projects applying the “start of construction” deadline enacted by Congress in December with respect the extension of tax credits for wind projects (as well as geothermal, biomass, trash and hydro projects).  The comparable guidance from the IRS for solar projects has not been published yet.

Law360 May 27 Start-Of-ConstructionUpdateShouldBenefitCleanEnergy

Wyoming lawmakers are considering increasing the current state excise tax imposed on wind energy production. Wyoming has more than 1,400 MW of installed wind capacity and is the only state to tax wind energy production. Wyoming is now considering becoming more of an outlier by increasing its tax on wind energy, while other states are providing incentives.

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