Law360 has published our article How The New Tax Law Blue Book Impacts Regulated Utilities.  The article is available at here or the full text is below.

The recently released the Joint Committee on Taxation’s Blue Book explanation[1] of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act[2] confirms that qualifying tangible property leased to a regulated public utility is eligible for the new 100 percent expensing rules, also called full expensing,[3] even if the property would not be eligible for full expensing if it were owned by the regulated utility.

As discussed below, there was some concern in the industry that an exception applicable to certain property used by a regulated utility, or the regulated utility exception,[4] might extend to an owner/lessor leasing to a regulated utility.  With the release of the Blue Book, we would expect there to be more lessors prepared to offer advantageous lease financing rates to regulated utilities, reflecting the lessor’s ability to claim full expensing.
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Below are soundbites from panel discussions at Solar Power International on September 25 and 26 in Anaheim, California. Overall the conference was well-attended and the panelists and audience seemed optimistic regarding current and future opportunities.

The soundbites are organized by topic, rather than presented chronologically.  The soundbites were prepared without the benefit of a recording or a transcript and have been edited for clarity.

Topics covered include tax equity, the solar start of construction rules, the investment tax credit (“ITC”) and tax basis risk after the Federal Circuit’s opinion in Alta Wind, the inverted lease structure, back-leverage debt, storage, community solar and merchant projects.

Macroeconomic Factors for Solar and Tax Equity

“Rising corporate profits have caused more tax equity to enter the market.  That has shifted the negotiating leverage to the sponsors.”  Managing Director, Money Center Bank

“Tax equity always needs to fund around 40 percent of the capital stack in order to use the tax benefits efficiently.”  Managing Director, Money Center Bank “Equipment costs continue to come down.  Module prices are back to where they were before the tariffs at 30 to 40 cents a Watt.”  President, Diversified Solar Services Company

“There are greater economies of scale for utility scale solar than for residential or C&I.  As module prices drop faster than that customer acquisition costs, utility scale will become a larger portion of the market.”  President, Diversified Solar Services Company

“I am very bullish on next year.  This has been the best year ever from a volume perspective, not from an income perspective, because the market is causing us to charge less.”  Managing Director, Regional Bank

“Falling electricity prices aren’t leading to sponsors raising less capital, because sponsors have been beating down lenders and service providers.”  Managing Director, Regional Bank

“Capital providers are taking more risk for less return.”  Managing Director, Regional Bank

“Residential solar debt has become an accepted asset class.” Managing Director, Regional Bank

“Soft costs, such as marketing, legal, accounting and tax advice, are five to seven percent of a solar project’s cost in Europe and Asia; they are 35 percent of solar project’s cost here; we need to attack that.”  President, Solar Developer
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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. 

Pratt’s Energy Law Report has published our article 2018 and Onward: The Impact of Tax Reform on the Renewable Energy Market. We are pleased to be able to make a PDF version of the article available.  (The article starts on page 6 of the PDF).

The Equipment Leasing and Finance Association has published our article The Impact of Tax Reform: What Leasing Companies Need to Know (subscription required).  We are also pleased to be able to make the article available in PDF format.  The article addresses equipment leasing generally, rather than being renewables or tax credit focused.

A Word About Wind has published our article What Is the Impact of Tax Reform on US Wind Tax Equity Deals? in its blog (subscription required) and newsletter.  If you are unable to open the blog post, the text of the article is available below:

On 22 December 2017, President Trump signed the first major reform of the United States tax code since 1986. Here are some of the ramifications of the reforms on wind tax equity transactions.

Corporate Tax Rate Reduced to 21%

In 2018, the corporate tax rate has been reduced from 35% to 21%. The rate reduction means that US corporations will pay significantly less federal income tax, so the supply of tax equity will decline. However, most tax equity investors are expected to still pay enough tax to merit making tax equity investments.

Importantly, the rate reduction means sponsors of wind projects will be able to raise less tax equity as depreciation deductions are worth only $.21 per dollar of deduction rather than $.35 per dollar.

100% Bonus Depreciation

A partial mitigant to tax rate reduction is that the act provides the option of claiming 100% bonus depreciation (i.e. expensing), so depreciation deductions can be available in the first year (rather than over multiple years). However, the partnership tax accounting rules hamper the efficient use of 100% bonus depreciation.
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Below are soundbites from panelists at the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) Finance & Tax Seminar in New York City.  The seminar was held on June 1 and 2, but only comments from the second day are reflected below.  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.

Tax Equity Market in 2017

  • It has been a slow start to the year. We will see a down year [compared to the $11 billion of tax equity funded in 2016]. – Executive Director, Energy Investing, Money Center Bank
  • There is relatively smaller tax equity flow in 2017, but there is continued demand for good projects with experienced sponsors. – Director, Investment Fund Manager
  • We saw a lag coming into this year. We haven’t seen a large uptick in investment. – Director, Structured Finance, Solar Services Company

Partnership Flip v. Sale-Leaseback Structures

  • A partnership flip provides an attractive balance for a cash equity investor to invest at scale and earn an attractive yield. The structure is attractive to cash equity investors because it raises less cash than a sale-leaseback.  [A cash equity investor is, generally, an investor other than the developer of the project.  Such investors are eager to invest, but typically do not have tax appetite.  Therefore, the partnership flip suits them well as it allows the tax equity investor to monetize 99% of the ITC, and much of the depreciation, while still requiring a significant cash equity investment.] – Director, Investment Fund Manager

Tax Equity Investors’ Reaction to the Possibility of Tax Reform

  • We are putting into our documents cash sweeps for the risk of tax reform resulting in a lowering of the tax rate. – Business Development Officer, Retail Bank
  • We want to be sure that if a tax law change occurs, we are protected with a step-up in our cash-sharing percentage or an indemnity. – Executive Director, Energy Investing, Money Center Bank
  • There is the potential for a tax equity investor’s economics to improve with a reduction in tax rates, if the reduction occurs after the losses are used. – Director, Project Finance, Solar Services Company


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Below are soundbites from speakers and panelists who spoke at Infocast’s Solar Power Finance & Investment Summit on March 22 and 23 in San Diego.  It was Infocast’s best attended event ever, and the mood was relatively upbeat.

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.

Tax Equity Structures

“The tax equity flip [partnership structure] is more complicated, [than a sale-leaseback], in particularly if there is back leverage.”  Director of Investing, Solar Company

“The optimal structure for C&I [for a partnership flip with back leverage] is 40 percent tax equity, 45 percent back leverage debt” and 15 percent sponsor equity.  Director of Investing, Solar Company

“Last year it was almost universally inverted leases; this year mostly partnership flips.”  Banker, Specialty Bank

“There is a more pronounced tension between back leverage and tax equity in an investment tax credit transaction, [than a production tax credit transaction,] because of the risk of recapture of the investment tax  credit.” Managing Director, Tax Equity Investor

“There is increased tension between back leverage and tax equity, whether the stress is cash step ups for under performance or other matters.  What we thought were normal structuring techniques the back leverage lenders take exception to.”  Managing Director, Money Center Bank

Selecting a tax equity structure should be “all about velocity.  Really, [the sale-leaseback] is what is easiest to do.” Managing Director, Regional Bank

“A cash strapped sponsor is not the best candidate for a partnership flip; they are better off with a sale-leaseback.” Executive Director, Non-Traditional Tax Equity Investor

“Some tax equity ask us to lend at the project level – senior secured – for capital account reasons.  But by the time you negotiate the forbearance and related debt/equity terms, you might as well be back leverage.”  Group Head, Regional Bank’s Capital Markets

“We only consider project level debt as a lender.  We have negotiated dozens of forbearance agreements with tax equity.” Banker, Specialty Bank

State of the Tax Equity Market

“There is enough [supply of] tax equity for 2017 [projects].  We are seeing some 2018 transactions being pushed by developers into 2017.”  Advisor, Boutique Accounting Firm

“We like to take our limited [annual] tax capacity and spread it over a greater volume of deals, so we prefer wind” which has a ten year production tax credit, rather than a 30 percent investment tax credit in the first year.  Managing Director, Consumer Finance Bank

“In wind, you [(i.e., the tax equity investor)] are a bigger piece of the capital stack.  In solar, it is smaller piece because the investment tax credit is all up front.  [The sponsor] wants to minimize the tax equity to maximize the back leverage, which is cheaper capital.” Advisor, Boutique Accounting Firm
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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.”
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The Court of Federal Claims on October 28 entered judgment in favor of Alta Wind cash grant applicants awarding them collectively over $206 million for grants under Section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Tax Act that the Treasury had declined to pay.  The two page judgment is available at Alta Wind Judgment Oct