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Jeffrey G. Davis is a partner in the Tax Transactions & Consulting group in Mayer Brown’s Washington DC office and is a co-head of the firm’s Renewable Energy group. Jeff represents major corporations, financial institutions and private equity funds on a wide range of US federal income tax matters. His practice focuses on partnership tax, tax credits and other incentives, and project finance and development. 

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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 January 19, 2017, the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Revenue Procedure 2017-19 (the “Rev. Proc.”) providing a safe harbor for certain alternative energy sales contracts with federal agencies to be treated as service contracts under Section 7701(e)(3).[1] The safe harbor is important because, if such a contract is treated as a lease to the federal agency, a solar project would constitute “tax-exempt use property” that is ineligible for the investment tax credit (ITC) and accelerated depreciation (including bonus depreciation).[2]

Continue Reading IRS Provides Safe Harbor for Solar Contracts with Federal Agencies

On December 15, 2016, the US Internal Revenue Service (the “IRS”) released Notice 2017-4 (the “Notice”), which updates previous IRS “start of construction” guidance by extending the Continuity Safe Harbor (described below) to December 31, 2018, and modifying and clarifying Notice 2016-31.1 The Notice is good news for developers with projects for which physical construction started during 2013 in that the extension gives them five years to complete construction and have the project placed in service. The Notice also means they need not worry about whether minimal amounts of physical construction during 2013 would cause these projects to be ineligible for the extension if the extension was only available to projects that commenced construction during 2014.

As discussed in more detail below, the Notice provides that a facility will be deemed to automatically meet the continuous construction requirement if it is placed in service by the later of (i) December 31, 2018 (a two-year extension of the prior deadline) or (ii) the end of the calendar year that is four years after the year in which construction started (the “Continuity Safe Harbor”). Continue Reading IRS Extends Continuity Safe Harbor Until December 31, 2018

On October 31, 2016, the US Court of Federal Claims decided that Halloween was the perfect day to release its opinion in Alta v. United States, and the plaintiffs no doubt are enjoying this treat.

The case came about when the plaintiffs brought suit against the Treasury for the alleged underpayment of over $206 million in grants under section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Tax Act of 2009. That section provides the owners of certain renewable energy projects with a grant equal to 30 percent of the specified energy property’s basis.

As the court aptly stated: “And therein lies the dispute.” Importantly, the court emphasized the general rule that “[b]asis, as defined in the IRC, is the cost of property to its owner” and, while there are “exceptions to the general rule that purchase price determines basis,” such exceptions did not apply under the facts of this case. Accordingly, the court found that the plaintiffs were entitled to the full amount of their grants and awarded damages equal to the shortfall plus reasonable costs.

The cases involved 20 plaintiffs, all of which were special purpose limited liability companies organized for the benefit of various institutional investors. For 19 of the plaintiffs, the purported basis was set via a sale of a wind project or an undivided interest therein to it from the developer that was followed by a lease back to the developer. For one plaintiff, the basis was set in outright sale from the developer to the plaintiff without a lease; that is, the plaintiff operated the project directly. All of the wind projects were contracted to Southern California Edison pursuant to a long-term fixed-price power purchase agreement (“PPA”). All of the projects were sold prior to their start of commercial operation.

The government, in denying payment of the full amount of the grant applied for, argued that basis should be calculated from “the value of each wind farm’s grant-eligible constituent parts and their respective development and construction costs.” Everything else would be categorized as either goodwill or going-concern value. Accepting the plaintiffs’ argument, argued the government, would mean accepting an inflated and improper number far in excess of what the assets would justify.

The plaintiffs’ determination of eligible basis was purchase price “minus small allocations for ineligible property such as land and transmission lines.” Continue Reading Court of Federal Claims to Treasury: “Basis Equals Purchase Price”

On August 30, 2016, the US Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) finalized regulations that clarify the definition of real property for purposes of the real estate investment trust (“REIT”) provisions under Section 856. The final regulations generally are consistent with the proposed regulations that were released in May 2014. (See our earlier update, “Proposed Regulations Provide REITs a Framework for Solar Energy Property,” from May 14, 2014.) Certain solar industry participants were advocating for solar to be a REIT-eligible asset class in an effort to create a new market for solar projects in the event that the investment tax credit (“ITC”) declined to 10 percent after 2016. In December 2015, Congress extended the ITC with a gradual phase-down. (See our earlier update, “Certain US Energy Tax Credits Extended, But Phaseout Dates Scheduled,” from December 28, 2015.) The extension made the need to make solar a viable asset class for REITs a less pressing issue. It is fortunate for the solar industry that it does not have to rely on REITs, as the new regulations only enable REITs to own solar projects in limited situations.

The final regulations keep the facts and circumstances framework, as opposed to bright-line rules, for determining whether property is real property for purposes of Section 856. Therefore, all of the specific facts of a particular solar energy property will need to be analyzed to determine its REIT classification. The final regulations apply for taxable years beginning after August 31, 2016. Continue Reading As Expected, Final REIT Regulations Offer Little Help for Solar

New Tax Regulations Curtail Pass-Through Lease Structure Benefit

The US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently released new proposed and temporary regulations addressing certain investment tax credit issues in a so-called “pass-through lease” structure. A pass-through lease is a structure in which the lessor of an investment tax credit-eligible asset makes an election to pass through the investment tax credit to the lessee of the asset, which lessee is frequently a partnership. The term “inverted lease” is sometimes used to refer to a pass-through lease structure in which each of the lessor and the lessee is a partnership, and the lessor and lessee partnerships are related to each other. The new regulations apply an “aggregate” treatment to partnerships (and S corporations) to ensure that any investment tax credit is appropriately taxable to the taxpayer that used the credit.

As discussed in more detail below, if a partner in a partnership that claimed an investment tax credit transfers its partnership interest during the deemed income period, these new regulations require the remaining income inclusion to be accelerated and to be recognized by the transferor. Further, under these regulations, the deemed income inclusion occurs at the partner level such that it does not result in an increase to the partners’ outside basis.

Although these temporary regulations are primarily directed at the structuring of historic tax credit transactions, the temporary regulations do have a limited effect with respect to solar transactions where the credit is passed through to a partnership (particularly the outside basis adjustment in the case of partnership lessees, as discussed below). Continue Reading New Tax Regulations Curtail Pass-Through Lease Structure Benefit

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