The Stratton Report has published an interview with me that discusses the pending tax reform legislation: http://strattonreport.com/longforms/davidburtonmayerbrown/.
The US tax reform bill that the Senate passed on December 2, 2017—along partisan lines in a 51 to 49 vote—is a mixed bag for the tax equity market. The bill is now headed to the conference committee, consisting of House of Representative and Senate leaders, to be reconciled with the tax reform bill passed by the House on November 16.
Below we describe the five differences from the House bill that are of greatest significance to the renewable energy tax equity market. (See also our prior analysis of the ramifications for the tax equity market of the House bill.)
Amounts of and Eligibility for Tax Credits
First, the amount of renewable energy tax credits available and the rules for qualifying for those credits are unchanged from current law under the Senate bill. Specifically, the inflation adjustment that applies to production tax credits is left in place and the “start of construction” rules are unchanged. The fact that the Senate bill left these provision alone is positive for wind and solar, which are in the midst of a phase-out, for wind, and a phase-down, for solar.
However, the Senate bill also left alone the lapsed tax credits for the “orphaned” renewable energy technologies that were inadvertently omitted from the 2015 extension that benefited wind and solar. The orphaned renewable energy technologies are fuel cells, geothermal, biomass, combined heat and power, landfill gas, small wind, solar illumination, tidal power and incremental hydroelectric.
Proponents of those technologies may have more negative views of the Senate bill. There is still discussion of the tax credits for the orphaned technologies being included in an “extenders bill” to possibly be taken up after the tax reform process is over. Continue Reading Senate’s Tax Bill’s Impact on the Tax Equity Market: Five Differences from the House Bill
Mayer Brown has launched its US Tax Reform Roadmap. The Roadmap includes a timeline of legislative events related to the current tax reform efforts and links to the documents that were passed, approved or introduced on those dates as well as links to Mayer Brown’s analysis regarding pertinent documents. It should be useful to have all of the legislative documents, and Mayer Brown’s analysis thereof, in one place and organized chronologically.
Our article Proposed GOP Tax Reform Would Curtail Tax Incentives for Wind and Solar is available from North American WindPower (no subscription required). The article includes a discussion of the politics of the Senate passing tax reform and a discussion of market implications; however, the discussion of the specific changes to the Internal Revenue Code is similar to our blog post GOP Tax Bill Proposes Changes to the Renewable Energy Industry’s Tax Incentives of November 4.
On Thursday, November 2, Republicans in the US House of Representatives released their proposed tax reform legislation, providing for massive alterations to tax law. The proposed legislation would trim tax benefits applicable to the wind and solar industries, while broadening the scope of the application of the “orphaned” energy tax credit. Further, it would eliminate the tax credit for electric vehicles starting in 2018. The proposed legislation is subject to further amendments and may not be enacted into final legislation.
Continuity of Construction. Pursuant to current law, the production tax credit (PTC) and investment tax credit (ITC) phase out over time, with the level of credit for which a renewable energy project qualifies being based on when the project began construction relative to various deadlines that determine the level of PTC or ITC. Under the proposed legislation, for any renewable energy project to qualify for a specific level of PTC or ITC, there would need to be continuous construction on such project from the deadline for the specific PTC or ITC level through the date the project is placed in service.
The concept of continuous construction does not exist in the current PTC and ITC provisions of the Tax Code. It was adopted by the IRS as an administrative matter in Notice 2013-29. However, the IRS later, under Notice 2016-31, created a safe harbor to enable projects to avoid application of the IRS’s “continuity” requirement. To qualify for the safe harbor, a project must be placed in service within four calendar years after the end of the calendar year in which construction began. The proposed legislation would effectively codify the continuity requirement and eliminate the safe harbor. Further, these changes appear to apply to all projects that have not been placed in service as of the date of enactment of the proposed legislation, regardless of whether construction of such projects began before enactment. Continue Reading GOP Tax Bill Proposes Changes to the Renewable Energy Industry’s Tax Incentives
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.
• 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 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
The American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) annual conference, WindPower, was held in Anaheim, California. Below are soundbites from panel discussions on May 24, 2017. The soundbites were prepared without the benefit of a transcript or recording and were edited for clarity. Further, they are organized by topic, rather than appearing in the order in which they were said.
Each year WindPower seems to devote less space on its schedule to topics related to tax equity. This year there was only one panel that purported to address tax equity; it was a panel about tax reform. It also appeared that there were fewer conference attendees who work in the tax equity space.
“There’s lots of tax equity in the market today. Deals are getting done regardless of uncertainty [with respect to tax reform].” Managing Director of a Money Center Bank
“There’s so much tax equity capacity right now that should there be tax reform [with a reduction in the corporate tax rate] there should [still] be enough tax equity out there.” Managing Director of a Money Center Bank
“A lot of people are handicapping [tax reform] as rate reduction that is less severe than what’s in [any of the Republican] proposals.” Managing Director of a Money Center Bank
“Tax reform will have a negative net present value impact on projects’ economics. To maintain the same return level, sponsors will need to drive down costs or increase revenue. Revenues have been going down, but costs have been going down faster. If we can keep that up, [the wind industry] may be able to absorb the cost of a change in the corporate tax rate. Managing Director of a Money Center Bank
“The cost of tax law change will not be as high as some people have projected.” Managing Director of a Money Center Bank
“Our intelligence shows support [on Capitol Hill] for maintaining the PTC phase-out as it is today, but we don’t take that for granted.” SVP Federal Legislative Affairs of AWEA
“The general consensus among tax equity investors and sponsors is [any tax reform would include] minimal change to depreciation benefits and no change to the PTC phase-out.” Managing Director of a Money Center Bank
“For now, people are making [tax reform assumptions in financial models] and getting deals done, but that could change with more tax reform proposals. What the market wants is certainty.” Managing Director of a Money Center Bank Continue Reading WindPower 2017 Soundbites
On June 28, Mayer Brown and Alfa Energy Advisors presented the webinar Tax Structuring and Impact of Potential Tax Reform. An audio recording of the presentation with video of the slides is available here (the button is near the bottom of the page). A pdf file with just the slides is available here.
Below are the questions submitted by the webinar audience with answers:
1. Question: For solar projects that use a third-party investor to monetizes the tax benefits, what is the split between the use of a sale-leaseback, partnership flip or an inverted lease structure in the market today?
Answer: There is no published data on this question. An educated guess in the current market is that partnership flips are more than half the market, inverted leases are less than ten percent of the market with the remaining portion made up of sale-leasebacks.
2. Question: In today’s solar tax equity market, are time- or yield-based flips more prevalent?
Answer: Yield-based flips are more prevalent. However, one very large tax equity investor prefers time-based flips. A generalization is that solar tax equity investors that started in wind projects prefer yield-based flips as that is what is sanctioned in the safe harbor for wind projects in Revenue Procedure 2007-65, while investors that started in tax equity by investing in historic tax credits prefer time-based flips. Continue Reading Presentation from Tax Equity Structuring & Impact of Potential Tax Reform and Q&As from the Webinar