The California Energy Commission (CEC) has approved the first community solar program as a means of complying with California’s solar mandate. Specifically, on February 20, 2020, following a three-hour hearing with many speakers on both sides of the issue, the CEC unanimously approved the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s (SMUD) proposal to allow homebuilders to use a community solar alternative to the California solar mandate, which went into effect on January 1, 2020. SMUD’s community solar plan is called Neighborhood SolarShares.

While the intention of the California solar mandate may have been to implement solar on every roof, the 2019 Building Efficiency Standards allowed for certain exceptions to these requirements. One such exception allowed for builders to build community solar projects, so long as these projects received approval from each of the CEC and the local utility. The 2019 standards provided the following six requirements for Commissioners to consider when approving a community solar program:

  1. Enforcement – The solar resource must exist at the time the home is permitted and the applicant must work in coordination with the building department for review and enforcement.
  2. Energy Performance – The energy savings must match that of rooftop solar.
  3. Dedicated Energy Savings – The generated solar must be dedicated to the building.
  4. Durability – Proposed facilities must be operational for 20 years.
  5. Additionality – Savings cannot be counted to meet other utility renewable requirements.
  6. Accountability and Recordkeeping – Applicant must keep records and make them accessible for 20 years.

In approval, Commissioner Karen Douglas described the SMUD program and the 2019 standards, “If it meets the criteria, we shall approve it.” Much of the CEC debate concerned consumer affordability, with proponents of the program arguing community solar would make home prices more affordable, but opponents arguing it would lead to higher energy bills. Commissioner J. Andrew McAllister explained that all parties were seemingly in agreement about the need to decarbonize, “Even though we are fighting about this issue, we’re on the same team.”

SMUD itself is currently building a 160-megawatt project at the site of the decommissioned Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station as well as working to develop a 15-megawatt array in conjunction with a developer.

With SMUD’s Neighborhood SolarShares program approved, other California utilities now have a roadmap in designing similar programs to take to the CEC for approval. Although some opponents of the decision claim it will reduce the adoption of rooftop solar, the CEC decision should provide a further encouragement for community solar developers in California, which to-date have had often struggled to conclude successful developments. Additionally, this provides one more tool for California as it works to achieve its 100% clean energy goals.

Treasury and the IRS released initial guidance on the amended Section 45Q carbon oxide sequestration credit on February 19, 2020. Notice 2020-12 and Revenue Procedure 2020-12 provide guidance relating to the beginning of construction and tax equity partnership allocations.

This is the first Section 45Q guidance since Treasury issued a request for comments in Notice 2019-32 last year. That Notice sought input on a number of issues raised by amendments to Section 45Q that expanded the scope and enhanced the amount of the Section 45Q credit pursuant to the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, P.L. 115-123. The new guidance in Notice 2020-12 and Revenue Procedure 2020-12 is effective March 9, 2020.

Continue Reading IRS Releases Initial Section 45Q Carbon Sequestration Credit Guidance

The US Senate today passed a package of tax extenders as part of the year-end appropriations act that the US House of Representatives passed on December 17, 2019. President Trump is expected to sign the legislation before the end of the day tomorrow to avoid a government shutdown. The package includes a one-year extension of the production tax credit (PTC) under section 45 for wind and other technologies. It also includes limited extension of other energy tax incentives that were set to expire and a retroactive extension for some credits that had already expired in 2018. Most of the credits will now expire at the end of 2020, setting up the prospect of a broader tax extenders deal during lame duck session after the 2020 election.  The bill also included a one-year extension through 2020 of the new markets tax credit under Section 45D at $5 billion.

Extension of Energy Tax Credits

Many energy tax credits and incentives are scheduled to expire or begin to phase out at the end of 2019 or have already expired. The Further Consolidated Appropriations Act will extend the expiration date to the end of 2020 for many credits. The package did not include an extension or expansion of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), disappointing the solar industry. The extenders package also did not include the proposed expansion of the ITC for energy storage technology or the extension of energy credits for offshore wind facilities.

Production Tax Credit

The PTC provides a credit for each kilowatt hour of energy production for qualified renewable energy facilities. The PTC expired for non-wind technologies at the end of 2017, while a reduced credit of 40% was available for wind facilities through the end of 2019, expiring for years 2020 and beyond. As we reported previously in House Passes PTC, NMTC Extension, under the tax extenders package, projects that begin construction in year 2019 are eligible for the 40% credit, and projects that begin construction in 2020 will be eligible for a 60% credit. This potentially leaves taxpayers in a frustrating position to the extent they already took steps to begin construction on a wind project in 2019 to take advantage of the 40% credit in anticipation of its expiration at the end of 2019. Taxpayers seeking the increased 60% PTC for wind projects will need careful planning to ensure any work done in 2019 does not attach to the 2020 project, thus dropping the credit to 40%.

Additionally, the full PTC would be retroactively revived and extended through 2020 for:

  • Closed loop biomass
  • Open loop biomass
  • Geothermal plants
  • Landfill gas (municipal solid waste)
  • Trash (municipal solid waste)
  • Qualified hydropower
  • Marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy facilities

Under current law, those technologies are generally only eligible for the PTC to the extent construction began before 2018 (other than certain closed-loop biomass and qualified hydropower technologies, which must be placed in service before 2018). Under the extenders package, those dates would all be extended out to the end of 2020.

Investment Tax Credit

The Investment Tax Credit (ITC) allows taxpayers to claim a credit for the cost of investment in qualified energy property. The ITC for solar is scheduled to phase down from a 30% credit where construction begins before December 31, 2019, to a 26% credit where construction begins in 2020, and a 22% credit where construction begins in 2021. The ITC drops to 10% where construction begins before January 1, 2022, and the project is not placed in service before January 1, 2024. A similar phase down applies to fiber-optic solar equipment, fuel cell property, micro-turbine property, combined heat and power property, and certain small wind projects, although those projects are ineligible for any ITC if not placed in service by January 1, 2024.

The tax extenders proposal extends the ITC in lieu of the PTC for wind facilities where construction begins in 2020. Those projects would be eligible for 60% of the ITC (mirroring the phase down to 40% then up again to 60% for wind PTC). Otherwise, the extenders package does not affect the ITC.

On December 17, 2019, the US House of Representatives passed a year-end fiscal year 2020 spending bill for the federal government that includes a one-year extension of the production tax credit under Section 45 (PTC) for wind and other technologies. The bill would extend the wind PTC for facilities the construction of which begins during 2020 at a rate of 60%. Under current law, the PTC is available at a rate of 100% for wind projects construction of which began before 2017, and the PTC phases down to 80% for projects that began construction during 2017, to 60% for projects that began construction during 2018, and 40% for projects that began construction during 2019. Curiously, the extender bill would leave in place the 40% rate for projects that began construction during 2019 and increase the rate back to 60% for projects that begin construction in 2020. If enacted in this form, this could potentially leave taxpayers in a frustrating position to the extent they already took steps to begin construction on a wind project in 2019 in order to secure PTC-eligibility at the 40% rate in anticipation of the credit’s scheduled expiration next year. The bill would mirror this 60-40-60 pattern for wind projects that elect to take the investment tax credit under Section 48 (ITC) in lieu of the PTC. Under the bill, the wind PTC would expire where construction begins in 2021 or later.

The bill would also retroactively extend the PTC through 2020 for closed-loop biomass, open-loop biomass, geothermal, landfill gas, trash facilities, qualified hydropower, and marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy facilities. Under current law, those technologies are generally only eligible for the PTC to the extent construction began before 2018 (other than certain closed-loop biomass and qualified hydropower technologies, which must be placed in service before 2018).

The bill also includes a one-year extension through 2020 of the new markets tax credit under Section 45D at $5 billion.

As anticipated by the renewables industry, the bill did not include an extension of the ITC, which, in the case of solar, fiber-optic solar, qualified fuel cell, and qualified small wind energy technologies, is set to begin phasing down next year from 30%  to 26%.

The tax extenders were included in an amendment to the spending bill, entitled The Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2019.

The bill needs to be approved by the Senate and signed into law by the president by Friday, December 20 to avoid a government shutdown. It is unclear if the bill will receive similar support in the Senate. We will be following developments as they unfold in the coming days.

Community choice aggregators (CCAs) are growing in popularity as an alternative electricity provider for communities that want more local control over their energy mix. And so, financiers, CCAs and other business leaders must assess what this growth means for the electric grid, utility business models and project finance. While there’s a primary focus on California, increasing energy loads being served by CCAs and other non-utility suppliers have been trending across the country.

The recent American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) Forum united dealmakers, policymakers and systems experts to confront the business opportunities, policy and regulatory issues, and technology challenges associated with integrating high-penetration renewable electricity on the grid. The goal of ACORE’s 2019 forum was to advance efforts for a modernized grid that values flexibility, reliability and resilience. One important session was Community Choice Aggregation: Impacts on Project Finance and Grid Management, which was moderated by Ed Zaelke of McDermott Will & Emery and included panelists Nick Chaset of East Bay Community Energy, Daniela Shapiro of ENGIE, N.A. and Britta von Oesen of CohnReznick Capital.

A Brief History

The first CCA formed in 2010 in Marin County, CA, and since then, the CCA movement has grown very quickly to 19 agencies (19 of California’s 58 counties). Notably, CCAs serve over 10 million Californians today. Helping local governments accelerate climate action is foundational to CCAs, with many seeing CCAs as a positive catalyst in promoting climate action, cleaner energy and finding ways to make the necessary energy investments to actuate transportation electrification and building electrification.

In a nutshell? They want to offer lower-cost energy that is cleaner and find ways to invest in local communities. Continue Reading Community Choice Aggregators on the Rise as an Alternative Electricity Provider

A little over a year ago, the Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) Act was signed into federal law, aiming to reform and strengthen US development finance capabilities by creating a new federal agency to help address development challenges and foreign policy priorities of the United States.

The US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) will be a modern, consolidated agency that brings together the capabilities of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and USAID’s Development Credit Authority, while introducing new and innovative financial products to better bring private capital to the developing world.

Most importantly, the BUILD Act will allow this new DFC to make equity investments, which is unprecedented in the United States.

At the Impact Investing Legal Working Group (IILWG) DC Chapter’s September session, panelists Stephanie Bagot (Senior Attorney, FINCA Impact Finance), Amy Bailey (Associate General Counsel, Investment Funds, OPIC), John Beckham (Chief Investment Officer, MicroVest) and Patricia Sulser (Independent Consultant, Former Chief Counsel, IFC) discussed the nuances behind the BUILD Act.

Continue Reading The BUILD Act Greenlights Equity Investments, Increasing Need for Legal Involvement

On June 20, 2019, the United States Court of Federal Claims published its long-awaited opinion in California Ridge Wind Energy, LLC v. United StatesNo. 14-250 C. The opinion addressed how taxpayers engaging in related party transactions may appropriately determine the cost basis with respect to a wind energy project under the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). Central to the case was whether the taxpayer was allowed to include a $50 million development fee paid by a project entity to a related developer in the cost basis of a wind project for purposes of calculating the cash grant under Section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Tax Act of 2009 (Section 1603). Section 1603 allowed taxpayers to take a cash grant in lieu of the production tax credit of up to 30% of the eligible cost basis of a wind project. The eligible cost basis under Section 1603 is determined in the same manner as under Section 45 for purposes of the investment tax credit (ITC). The Justice Department disagreed with the taxpayer’s position that the development fee should be included in the cost basis for calculating the Section 1603 cash grant. The Justice Department argued that the development fee was a “sham.”

The court agreed, and held for the government. The court’s opinion focused on the taxpayer’s failure to provide evidence that the payment of the development fee had “economic substance.” Indeed, the court was troubled that none of the taxpayer’s witnesses could explain what was actually done to earn the $50 million development fee. Other than a three‑page development agreement and the taxpayer’s bank statements identifying the wire transfers for payment of the development fee, which started and ended with the same entity, the court found that the taxpayer provided no other factual evidence to support the payment of the fee. Indeed, the court pointed to the taxpayer’s trial testimony, which the court found lacked the specificity needed to support the development fee. Because the taxpayer failed to carry its burden of proof and persuasion, the court concluded that the taxpayer was not entitled to include the $50 million development fee in the cost basis of the wind project for purposes of computing the Section 1603 cash grant.

Importantly, the court did not, however, rule that a development fee paid to a related party is not permitted to be included in the cost basis of a facility for purposes of determining the Section 1603 cash grant. Instead, the court simply ruled that the taxpayer failed to provide it with sufficient proof that in substance the taxpayer performed development services for which a development fee is appropriately considered part of the cost basis of a facility for purposes of determining the Section 1603 cash grant.

Practice Point: In court, the plaintiff has the burden of proving its entitlement to the relief sought. Before filing a case, it’s best to make sure that you have all of the evidence you need to prove your case. Without substantial and verifiable proof, a court is likely to rule against your position. Taxpayers entering into ITC transactions should carefully plan as they negotiate their transaction documents to sufficiently demonstrate the substance of the transactions.

On July 27, 2018, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Alta Wind v. United States, reversed and remanded what had been a resounding victory for renewable energy. The US Court of Federal Claims had ruled that the plaintiff was entitled to claim a Section 1603 cash grant on the total amount paid for wind energy assets, including the value of certain power purchase agreements (PPAs).

We have reported on the Alta Wind case several times in the past two years:

Government Appeal of Alta Wind Supports Decision to File Suit Now

Court Awards $206 Million to Alta Wind Projects in Section 1603 Grant Litigation; Smaller Award to Biomass Facility

Court Awards $206 Million to Alta Wind Projects in Section 1603 Grant Litigation; Smaller Award to Biomass Facility

Act Now To Preserve Your Section 1603 Grant

SOL and the 1603 Cash Grant – File Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

In reversing the trial court, the appellate court failed to answer the substantive question of whether a PPA that is part of the sale of a renewable energy facility is creditable for purposes of the Section 1603 cash grant.

Trial Court Decision

The Court of Federal Claims awarded the plaintiff damages of more than $206 million with respect to the cash grant under Section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the Section 1603 Grant). The court held that the government had underpaid the plaintiff its Section 1603 Grants arising from the development and purchase of large wind facilities when it refused to include the value of certain PPAs in the plaintiffs’ eligible basis for the cash grants. The trial court rejected the government’s argument that the plaintiffs’ basis was limited solely to development and construction costs. Instead, the court agreed with the plaintiffs that the arm’s-length purchase price of the projects prior to their placed-in-service date informed the projects’ creditable value. The court also determined that the PPAs specific to the wind facilities should not be treated as ineligible intangible property for purposes of the Section 1603 Grant. This meant that any value associated with the PPAs would be creditable for purposes of the Section 1603 Grant.

Federal Circuit Reverses and Remands 

The government appealed its loss to the Federal Circuit. In its opinion, the Federal Circuit reversed the trial court’s decision, and remanded the case back to the trial court with instructions. The Federal Circuit held that the purchase of the wind facilities should be properly treated as “applicable asset acquisitions” for purposes of Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 1060, and the purchase prices must be allocated using the so-called “residual method.” The residual method requires a taxpayer to allocate the purchase price among seven categories. The purpose of the allocation is to discern what amount of a purchase price should be ascribed to each category of assets, which may have significance for other parts of the IRC. For example, if the purchase price includes depreciable plant equipment and non-depreciable property (e.g., cash and marketable securities), the residual method asks the taxpayer to allocate the total purchase price between the property classes.

The Federal Circuit remanded the case back to the Claims Court to determine the proper allocation of the purchase prices of the wind facilities.

Why Is This Case Important?  

If you are in the renewable energy industry, this decision is likely very important. Indeed, there are numerous taxpayers who did not receive the full amount of their Section 1603 Grant based upon the government’s reduction of the claim for the value of a PPA. This case will have precedential effect on those taxpayers’ claims. Moreover, the decision will affect how the industry prices deals for renewable facilities. These transactions have historically involved substantial financial modeling based upon cash flows.

The Federal Circuit Left the Primary Issue Unanswered

The Federal Circuit left the primary issue in the case, whether the PPA is creditable for purposes of the Section 1603 Grant, to the trial court to decide on remand. Accordingly, if the trial court determines that the PPAs cannot be divorced from the wind farm facilities assets, they will be correctly allocated to “Class V” in IRC section 1060, and will be credit able for purposes of the Section 1603 Grant. Implicitly, this is what the trial court had already decided, and the result would obtain the same economic result for the plaintiff as its original ruling. We will continue to follow this matter to see whether the trial court follows the prevailing thinking on this issue and of a decade of legal support.

Taxpayers are running out of time to file refund claims against the government. If the government reduced or denied your Section 1603 cash grant, you can file suit in the Court of Federal Claims against the government to reclaim your lost grant money. Don’t worry, you will not be alone. There are numerous taxpayers lining up actions against the government and seeking refunds from this mismanaged renewable energy incentive program. Indeed, the government lost in round one of Alta Wind I Owner-Lessor C. v. United States, 128 Fed. Cl. 702 (2016). In that case, the trial court awarded the plaintiffs more than $206 million in damages ruling that the government unreasonably reduced their Section 1603 cash grants.

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FERC announced actions in response to the 2017 tax reform legislation and a revised income tax policy, which eliminates the income tax allowance for Master Limited Partnerships. Regulated entities should ensure that they comply with FERC’s orders regarding the treatment of income taxes and consider whether to file comments on the proposed rulemaking and notice of inquiry.

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