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

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.

Tax Reform

“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

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

Continue Reading SEIA’s Finance & Tax Seminar Soundbites

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 Continue Reading Infocast’s Solar Power Finance & Investment Summit Soundbites

Below are soundbites from panelists at the Infocast Wind Power & Finance Investment Summit on February 28, 2017 in Rancho Bernardo, California.  The soundbites are organized by topic, rather than in chronological order, and were prepared without the benefit of a transcript or a recording.  The soundbites were edited for clarity.

Prospects for Tax Reform

 “Generally in Congress things take longer than they want them too.” – In House Lobbyist

“Tax reform won’t take shape until next year, and that is probably early.” – Regulatory Affairs Executive

“Amidst the unknowns, if you are not taking into account the uncertainty of the corporate tax rate, you are probably not getting it right.” – Regulatory Affairs Executive

“If tax reform is good for corporate America, then in the grand scheme it is good for us, given the [number of] corporate buyers” of wind power.  – CEO of Texas Wind Developer

 

Allocation of Tax Reform Risk in Transactions

“There is a risk that early deals that have to get done set a standard for the allocation of tax reform risk [between the tax equity investor and the developer] that is not sustainable.” – Renewable Energy Executive

“If corporate tax reform remains uncertain, it poses a risk of such a big swing in the economics [of a wind project] that no one is prepared to absorb that risk.”  – Executive from East Coast Utility

“Our [utility] commission has been okay with a clause in a power purchase agreement requiring renegotiation of the pricing for tax changes.  If there is an adverse tax change, we will be buying power at the higher rates in any event at that time.”  – Executive from Midwest Utility

  Continue Reading Infocast Wind Power & Finance Investment Summit Soundbites

Below are soundbites from panel discussions on September 14, 2016 at Solar Power International in Las Vegas.  The soundbites are organized by topic, rather than in chronological order, and were prepared without the benefit of a transcript or a recording.

Supply of Tax Equity Investment

“There are 32 tax equity investors in the renewables market, about 26 of those invest in solar.” — Managing Director from a Money Center Bank

“It is very challenging when syndicators are trying to bring in new investors.  Each new investor takes nine to 15 months to work through its approval issues.” — Director, Renewable Energy Investments for a Commercial Bank

“We continue to see insurance companies get into the market.  They like the asset.  You might have newcomers that invest in 20 MW of projects in commercial transactions.” — Managing Director of a Boutique Financial Advisor

“There are more investors for solar than wind.  Wind is limited to experienced project [financiers].  Overall there is enough tax equity capacity for solar.” — Managing Director of a Boutique Financial Advisor

“We prioritize tax equity investment opportunities based on:

  1. Basic project finance fundamentals – quality of the sponsor and its management team, the quality of the power purchase agreement (“PPA”), the quality of the equipment and its warranties, and pro forma stress tests.
  2. The minimum amount out the door.  For solar, we want to be investing $75 to $100 million per transaction.  If the transaction involves commercial and industrial or residential projects, we like it to take no more than six to nine months to deploy that amount.
  3. Repeat business.  Does the sponsor have a pipeline of projects, so we can reuse the papers we have” negotiated. —  Managing Director from a Money Center Bank

Continue Reading Solar Power International Panel Discussions Soundbites