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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Yesterday, the US Trade Representative announced that President Trump approved recommendations to impose a safeguard tariff on imported solar cells and modules under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974. The tariff will be in effect for the next four years at the following rates:

This tariff is the result of petitions filed in May 2017 by two US solar cell manufacturers at the (ITC under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974. The petitions alleged that a global imbalance in supply and demand in solar cells and modules and a surge of cheap imports caused serious injury to the domestic solar manufacturing industry. In September, the ITC found injury to the US solar equipment manufacturing industry and, in October, released its recommendations to the White House to impose tariffs. The President’s final decision was in line with the ITC’s recommendations.The first 2.5 gigawatts (GW) of imported solar cells will be exempt from the safeguard tariff in each of those four years. According to the International Trade Commission (ITC), the United States imported approximately 12.8 GW of solar cells in 2016, which was expected to grow in 2017.

Supporters hope the tariff will encourage increased domestic solar manufacturing. Reports are circulating that a solar manufacturer is considering opening a new module factory in Florida. However, critics of the tariff like the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) say that the tariff will result in a loss of 23,000 domestic jobs this year, including many in manufacturing, and will result in the delay or cancellation of billions of dollars in solar investments. The U.S. solar energy industry currently employs 260,000 Americans in jobs ranging from installation to manufacturing racking systems and inverters. The industry created 1 out of every 50 new US jobs in 2016. According to SEIA, only 2,000 people in the United States are employed manufacturing solar cells and panels.

The tariff is also expected to increase solar module costs, with early estimates predicting an increase of 10 to 12 cents per watt based on current US import prices of 35 to 40 cents per watt.

The US Trade Representative’s press release and fact sheet took clear aim at China, singling it out as a major cause of injury to the domestic solar manufacturing industry: “Today, China dominates the global supply chain and, by its own admission, is looking to increase its capacity to account for 70 percent of total planned global capacity expansions announced in the first half of 2017.” The US Trade Representative also stated that it will “engage in discussions among interested parties that could lead to positive resolution of the separate antidumping and countervailing duty measures currently imposed on Chinese solar products and U.S. polysilicon.” Despite the aggressive rhetoric, the tariff will not be limited to Chinese imports.

Additional details on whether any countries will be exempted from the tariff and how the 2.5 GW exemption is determined should be available upon publication of a Presidential Proclamation finalizing the tariff.

Alongside the tariff on solar cells, the Trump Administration also announced a tariff on imported residential washing machines.

On December 2, 2017, the Senate approved its version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The Senate Bill includes the base erosion and anti-abuse tax, a new tax intended to apply to companies that significantly reduce their US tax liability by making cross-border payments to affiliates. Given its potential to disrupt the financing of renewable energy projects, taxpayers in the renewable energy sector have been paying close attention to its developments.

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Changes to the energy credits proposed in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act could impact the eligibility of renewable energy projects that had been relying on the guidance previously issued by the Internal Revenue Service.

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On October 31, 2017, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) released its recommendations to impose a tariff on imported solar equipment. The proposals it issued, however, would result in duties substantially lower than those sought by the petitioners. The ITC’s four commissioners issued several remedy recommendations, including, at the high end, a 35 percent tariff on imported solar modules and a 30 percent tariff on solar cells. This would result in an estimated 10-13 cent per watt increase on imported solar panels, far below the tariff levels requested by the petitioners.

In May, Suniva, a US solar cell manufacturer, filed a petition at the ITC requesting relief from foreign imports. The petition alleged that a global imbalance in supply and demand in solar cells and modules and a surge of cheap imports caused serious injury to the domestic solar manufacturing industry. SolarWorld, another US manufacturer, joined the petition and the ITC instituted an investigation. Suniva and SolarWorld requested a 32 cent per watt tariff on crystalline silicon photovoltaic (CSPV) cells, and Suniva sought a price floor on solar panels of 74 cents per watt.

While US solar manufacturers argued in favor of imposing duties on foreign imports, others like the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) have opposed the petition, arguing that it poses a major threat to the 260,000 US workers in the solar industry.  Specifically, SEIA argues, the higher cost of panels would lead to decreased demand and make solar energy less competitive in the United States, costing jobs in solar installation and other areas of the solar industry. Solar manufacturing accounts for approximately 38,000 jobs in the United States while solar installation accounts for over 137,000 jobs.

In September, the ITC found injury to the US solar equipment manufacturing industry. Since that finding, the ITC has been working on the remedy phase of the proceeding.

The commissioners issued three separate sets of recommendations. One recommendation proposes, among other things, imposing tariffs of up to 30 percent on imported CSPV cells and a 35 percent tariff on imported CSPV modules, each of which would be incrementally reduced over four years. A second proposal recommended imposing a 30 percent tariff rate on imports of cells exceeding 1 gigawatt, decreasing by five percentage points and increasing the in-quota amount increase by 0.2 gigawatts each year over a four year period, as well as a 30 percent tariff on modules that would be phased down by five percentage points each year. The third proposal recommended a quantitative restriction on cells and modules starting at 8.9 gigawatts in the first year, increasing by 1.4 gigawatts each subsequent year.

The ITC will forward its report, which contains its injury determination, remedy recommendations, additional findings, and the bases for each, to the President by November 13, 2017. The President must make a final decision on whether to impose a remedy and what that remedy should be by January 12, 2018.

In a highly-anticipated Technical Advice Memorandum (TAM) dated March 23, 2017 and released on July 21, 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ruled that two taxpayers who had invested in a Limited Liability Company that owned and operated a refined coal facility (the LLC) were not entitled to refined coal production credits they had claimed because their investment in the LLC was structured “solely to facilitate the prohibited purchase of refined coal tax credits.” This analysis marks a departure from the position staked out by the IRS in a number of recent refined coal credit cases, which focused on whether taxpayers claiming refined coal credits were partners in a partnership that owned and operated a refined coal facility.

Continue Reading IRS Rules (Again) That Taxpayers Are Not Entitled to Claimed Refined Coal Credits

President Trump released his budget proposal for the 2018 FY on May 23, 2017, expanding on the budget blueprint he released in March. The budget proposal and blueprint reiterate the President’s tax reform proposals to lower the business tax rate and to eliminate special interest tax breaks. They also provide for significant changes in energy policy including: restarting the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, reinstating collection of the Nuclear Waste Fund fee and eliminating DOE research and development programs.

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UPDATE: This bill was signed into Maryland law on May 4, 2017 with a $75,000 maximum credit for commercial systems. A previous version of the bill offered credits to commercial systems up to $150,000.

In April, the Maryland legislature passed a bill creating a state income tax credit for the costs associate with installing an energy storage system. Governor Larry Hogan is expected to sign it into law. Unlike measures in other states such as California and Massachusetts, the Maryland bill does not contain mandated amounts of energy storage that utilities must procure. Instead, if the current bill is signed, Maryland will be the first state in the country to incentivize the deployment of energy storage systems by offering a tax credit. Presently, an energy storage system can qualify for the federal investment tax credit if it is installed alongside a solar photovoltaic system. This is the first ever tax credit for storage-only projects, although qualified energy storage systems still may be paired with renewable energy projects.

Under the terms of the bill, a taxpayer will receive a credit equal to 30 percent of the installed costs of the system, not to exceed $5,000 for a residential system or $150,000 for a commercial system. The incentive program has a funding cap of $750,000 per year, and applications for the credit will be approved on a first-come, first-served basis. Additionally, the tax credit may not be carried over for use in future tax years. The tax credit is currently slated to run from 2018 to 2022. Continue Reading Maryland Likely to Become First State to Adopt Energy Storage Tax Credit