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.
Philip (Phil) Tingle represents energy companies such as utilities, independent power producers and financial institutions on a wide range of energy tax-related matters. He is the global head of the Firm's Energy Advisory Practice Group. Phil provides advice regarding all aspects of renewable-energy projects, including tax equity structures, refinancings, acquisitions and dispositions, restructurings and workouts. He has extensive experience with the production tax credit and with the application of renewable credits to new technologies. Moreover, he works with the investment tax credit for numerous kinds of solar projects. Read Philip Tingle's full bio.
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.
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.
According to the Department of Energy (DOE) renewable energy wind installations had explosive growth through 2016, and added approximately 32,000 jobs since 2015, to a total of 102,000!
In the Wind Technologies Market Report, DOE says the Production Tax Credit (PTC) is directly responsible for the expansion. Congress, however, is phasing out the PTC, which DOE believes will lead to a slowing of the wind energy industry. The PTC is incrementally being phased out over a five year period, and ends completely in 2020. Read here for more information.
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.
On January 19, 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Rev. Proc. 2017-19, 2016-6 I.R.B. (the Rev. Proc.), providing a safe harbor under which it will not challenge the tax treatment of an Energy Savings Performance Contract Energy Savings Agreement (ESPC ESA) as a service contract under Section 7701(e)(3). While the application of the guidance is limited to the ESPC ESA context, the Rev. Proc. nonetheless provides potential insight into the IRS’s views of other power purchase agreements for the purchase of renewable energy generally.
As you may know, several taxpayers have sued the federal government because they believe they were underpaid under the Section 1603 grant program. Indeed, the taxpayer in the Alta Wind case was successful in convincing the court that the government had inappropriately reduced the amount of its 1603 grant by approximately $200 million. For more information about the Alta Wind case, see our previous On the Subject, “Act Now to Preserve Your Section 1603 Grant.” We have been following these cases, and believe that the grant applicants have strong arguments in their favor. As expected, right before the New Year, the US government appealed the Alta Wind case, asking the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to overturn that decision.
Taxpayers with the same or similar legal issue need to make a decision of what to do. We strongly recommend that you file your case immediately against the government seeking redress for the inappropriate reduction in the amount of the 1603 grant that the government paid to you. If you file suit, we expect the court will stay your case pending the outcome of the Alta Wind appeal. Nevertheless, we believe that this is the best course of action for the reasons outlined below:
- First, filing suit now will toll the statute of limitations on your claims. Every case must be filed within the statute of limitations. If you do not file your suit within the statute of limitations, you will not be permitted to file suit in the future. Appeals can take years to resolve. If you wait until the court rules on the Alta Wind appeal you risk losing your claim because the statute of limitations may have expired by the time that case is fully decided. Filing your claim now will stop the limitations period from running, preserving your ability to have your claims heard by the court.
- Second, we expect that the appeals court will affirm the taxpayer’s win in Alta Wind. If you have a pending case in court when that occurs, you will be in a better position than those taxpayers who wait to file suit because the government will have to address your case immediately after the appeal is decided and the stay is lifted. Moreover, filing suit and “getting in line” early will be especially important if the government tries to settle the claims against it because you will be able to argue that you should be entitled to a greater percentage of your claim than if you had filed after the appellate court rules against the government.
- Lastly, filing suit now will increase your ability to withstand any attempts by the US Department of the Treasury to retroactively change the 1603 grant program. The new administration has taken over, and it is possible that it could implement rules for the Section 1603 grant program that are harmful to your claim and try to implement them retroactively. That is an issue that would have to be litigated, but your argument would be easier to make if you have a pending case at the time the rules are implemented.
We estimate that the cost of filing your suit will be very low, but the benefits can be very important to positioning yourself for the best possible outcome.
Additionally, we would encourage you to join forces with other taxpayers that have the same or similar issue, and file an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief in the pending Alta Wind appeals case. We are in the process of assembling a coalition of taxpayers to file an amicus brief. The amicus brief would, of course, be in support of the taxpayer’s case and legal theory, which could also improve your case in court.
Please contact us if you would like to discuss this matter further.
On December 15, 2016, the Internal Revenue Service released Notice 2017-04, which provides welcome guidance on how to meet the “beginning of construction” requirements for wind and other qualified facilities. There has been much uncertainty about when construction of these types of facilities begins for renewable energy tax credit purposes. The Notice (1) extends the “Continuity Safe Harbor” placed in service date for projects that started construction before 2014; (2) provides that the “combination of methods” rule set forth in prior guidance only applies to facilities on which construction begins after June 6, 2016; and (3) clarifies that for purposes of the 80/20 Rule, the cost of new property includes all costs properly included in the depreciable basis of the new property.
The US Court of Federal Claims awarded damages of more than $206 million to the Plaintiffs in a case with respect to the cash grant program under Section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the Section 1603 Grant). In its opinion, which was unsealed on Monday, October 31, the Court held that the US Treasury Department (Treasury) had underpaid the Section 1603 Grants arising from projects in the Alta Wind Energy Center because it had incorrectly reduced the Plaintiffs’ eligible basis in the projects. The Court rejected Treasury’s argument that the Plaintiffs’ basis in the facilities was limited to development and construction costs, and accepted Plaintiffs’ position that the arm’s-length purchase price of the projects prior to their placed-in-service date was a reasonable starting place for the projects’ value. The Court determined that the facilities, having not yet been placed in service and having only one customer pursuant to a master power purchase agreement (PPA), could not have any value assigned to goodwill or going concern value which would reduce the amount of eligible costs for purposes of the Section 1603 Grant. The Court noted that the transactions surrounding the sales of the facilities were conducted at arm’s length by economically self-interested parties and that the purchase prices and side agreements were not marked by “peculiar circumstances” which influenced the parties to agree to a price highly in excess of fair market value. Importantly, the Court also held that PPAs were more like land leases which should not be viewed as separate intangible assets from the underlying facilities, and are thus eligible property for purposes of the Section 1603 Grant. Finally, the Court accepted the Plaintiffs’ pro rata allocation of costs between eligible and ineligible property.
This significant decision is welcomed by the renewable energy industry and is an affirmation of a long held view by many taxpayers as to an appropriate measure of cost basis in the context of the Section 1603 Grant. The decision may also serve as much-needed guidance for determining cost basis for purposes of the investment tax credit under Code Section 48.
McDermott will be issuing a full On the Subject review and analysis of the Court’s opinion in the coming days.
On August 31, 2016, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and US Department of the Treasury issued final regulations (Final Regulations) under section 856 of the Internal Revenue Code to clarify the definition of “real property” for purposes of sections 856 through 859 relating to real estate investment trusts (REITs). The Final Regulations largely follow proposed regulations issued in 2014 (Proposed Regulations) by providing a safe harbor list of assets and establishing facts and circumstances tests to analyze other assets.