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IRS Provides Relief on Begin Construction Continuity Requirements

Yesterday, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2021-41 (the Notice), providing relief for continuity requirements for the investment tax credit (ITC) under Section 48 and the production tax credit (PTC) under Section 45.

The applicable tax rate for the ITC and PTC is based on the year a project “begins construction.” Under existing IRS guidance, projects are treated as having begun construction by either satisfying the Physical Work Test or the Five Percent Safe Harbor. Both methods require a taxpayer to make continuous progress toward completion of the facility once construction has begun (Continuity Requirement). The IRS previously provided a Continuity Safe Harbor, whereby the Continuity Requirement will be deemed met if the project is placed in service within a certain number of years from beginning construction. For most projects, the Continuity Safe Harbor was previously four years and was extended to five years last year for projects that otherwise began construction in 2016 or 2017. Under the existing guidance, if the Continuity Safe Harbor is not met, a taxpayer can satisfy the Continuity Requirement by meeting the Continuous Construction Test (in the case of the Physical Work Test) or the Continuous Efforts Test (in the case of the Five Percent Safe Harbor). The Continuous Construction Test and Continuous Efforts Test are both demonstrated through facts and circumstances.

In the Notice, the IRS further extended the Continuity Safe Harbor to six years for projects that otherwise began construction in 2016 through 2019 and to five years for projects that otherwise began construction in 2020. In other words, the Continuity Safe Harbor will be satisfied if a taxpayer places the project in service by the end of a calendar year that is no more than five or six years (as applicable) after the calendar year during which construction of the project otherwise began.

The Notice further provides that for a project that does not satisfy the Continuity Safe Harbor, the taxpayer can satisfy either the Continuous Efforts Test or Continuous Construction Test (regardless of whether the taxpayer is relying on the Physical Work Test or the Five Percent Safe Harbor). Under previous guidance, a taxpayer relying on the Physical Work Test was all but certain to fail the Continuous Construction Test, which seems to require regular physical work from the time construction begins. The Continuous Efforts Test appears to encompass more activities than the Continuous Construction Test and may be easier to satisfy for some taxpayers.

The Notice clarifies that the relief was in response to the fact that “regional, national, or global circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic have continued to cause delays in the development of certain facilities eligible for the PTC and the ITC. These extraordinary delays have adversely affected the ability of many taxpayers to place facilities in service in time to meet the Continuity Safe Harbor.”

The Notice will be welcome relief to many taxpayers who have struggled with project delays in recent years.




Five Takeaways: The Energy Market in 2021 – From Crisis to Opportunity

The energy market has undergone significant change in the past 12 months, with even more on the horizon. Our webinar series explores how these changes have shaped—and will continue to impact—the energy industry, including discussions of what’s to come.

Our latest webinar featured Greg Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE).


Below are key takeaways from this week’s webinar:

  • The renewable energy industry continued to grow throughout the Trump administration; 2020 was a banner year with 28.5 GW of new wind and solar (the previous record, in 2016, was just below 23 GW).
  • The renewable industry is likely to receive its first legislative action as part of the infrastructure bill (likely through the budget reconciliation process); however, it will likely not occur until after impeachment proceedings and a COVID-19 relief bill have been completed.
  • It is not clear that a clean energy standard could be passed through the budget-oriented reconciliation process or that carbon pricing would have sufficient votes to even pass the reconciliation process, so the best current option may be to continue and expand tax incentives for renewable energy.
  • The Biden administration has committed to a “whole of government” approach to clean energy, which is expected to include an aggressive Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) policy once a third commissioner is appointed in June; sweeping executive orders (some of which we have already seen); aggressive federal procurement targets; streamlined permitting; and broader Department of Energy guidance in innovation.
  • A refundable tax credit at 85% of the current value is very much on the table, but it remains to be seen whether there are sufficient votes in the Senate for this to make it through the reconciliation process.

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Access past webinars in this series.




Key Takeaways: Achieving Low-Cost Decarbonization Through Power Markets, Infrastructure and Grid Operations



McDermott hosted Rob Gramlich, Founder and President of Grid Strategies, LLC, on July 16 for a discussion of low-cost decarbonization strategies for the electricity sector. We framed the discussion around 2020 US Presidential Candidate Joe Biden’s recently announced goal of getting to zero carbon emissions from the electricity grid by 2035.

Here are three takeaways from our conversation:

1. Three Areas of Change. Rob highlighted three areas where improvements can be made to substantially increase the deployment of wind and solar resources: Power markets, grid infrastructure and grid operations. With respect to power markets, Rob emphasized that regional transmission organizations (RTOs) can play a bigger role in achieving very fast dispatch over large geographic areas. With respect to infrastructure, he emphasized that new transmission lines will be required to reach the best wind and solar resources, but also that many of those new lines can be built on existing rights-of-way. And with respect to grid operations, he emphasized that there are technologies and operating practices that can help us improve the efficiency of the grid.

2. Flexible FERC. Rob suggested that under a new Democratic administration, FERC would likely prioritize flexibility in pricing design and in FERC’s interactions with states. He emphasized the importance of a flexible design for the pricing of “capacity” services and suggested that a Biden administration would likely be supportive of state level efforts to promote renewable energy.

3. Transmission Costs vs. Electricity Costs. Rob suggested that over the next ten years transmission costs will become a greater share of the overall cost of electricity, but that building out transmission would help bring that overall cost down.




Key Takeaways | Developments in the PJM Market

On June 18, 2020, McDermott partners Neil Levy and David Tewksbury were joined by Paul M. Sotkiewicz, PhD, of E-Cubed Policy Associates, LLC, to discuss recent developments in the markets operated by PJM Interconnection (PJM).

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Below are key takeaways from this week’s webinar.

  • In December 2019, the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued an order requiring PJM to expand its Minimum Offer Price Rule (MOPR). Under the expanded MOPR, a capacity resource that receives a state subsidy will be subject to a minimum offer floor price in PJM’s capacity auctions, unless it is entitled to one of the exemptions set forth by FERC.
  • The expanded MOPR is not expected to have significant impacts on the results of PJM’s capacity auctions, particularly in the near term. There are at least three reasons for this: First, there are various exemptions to the expanded MOPR, including, but not limited to, exemptions for existing renewable resources, as well as for resources used for self-supply. Second, default offer floors are determined based on the technology of the resource, and certain of these default offer floor prices are low enough to allow resources to continue to clear in PJM’s capacity auctions. Third, and most importantly, a resource can submit offers below the default minimum offer floor price if it can demonstrate that its costs are below the default price.
  • FERC acted relatively quickly on requests for rehearing of its December 2019 order, and issued an order on rehearing in April 2020. Petitions for review of FERC’s orders are pending in the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and are expected to be consolidated in the Seventh Circuit.
  • PJM has made two compliance filings in response to the December 2019 and April 2020 orders. Given the speed with which FERC acted on rehearing, there is the possibility that FERC could also act quickly on the compliance filings. PJM has indicated that it intends to hold the Base Residual Auction for 2022/2023, which was originally scheduled to take place in May 2019, six and a half months after FERC issued an order accepting the compliance filings.
  • Various states are considering opting out of PJM’s capacity markets by using the Fixed Resource Requirement (FRR) alternative. The FRR alternative could give state regulators more control over the mix of resources in the state, but has historically resulted in higher costs for ratepayers in the FRR states.
  • FERC also recently approved modifications to PJM’s rules to provide additional compensation for operating reserves. At the same time, FERC also required PJM to adopt a forward-looking, rather than historical, methodology to calculate the energy and ancillary services offset (E&AS Offset) that is used in the capacity market. Notwithstanding the expected increase in energy and ancillary services revenues as a result of the operating reserves rule change, using a forward-looking methodology may not result in significant changes to the E&AS Offset in [...]

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Three Takeaways: Tensions in the Renewable Energy and Environmental Markets


McDermott recently hosted Jonathan Burnston, Managing Partner of the energy sector financial services firm Karbone, for a discussion of recent developments affecting environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing, renewable energy and carbon offsets.

Three takeaways from this week’s webinar below:

      1. Interest in ESG investing is unlikely to fade. ESG indices have performed relatively well in the COVID-19 environment and the concerns that motivate ESG investing are not going away.
      2. ESG investing is different from reducing emissions or pursuing carbon neutrality. Positive returns from ESG investments do not themselves reduce emissions or mitigate the impacts of climate change.
      3. Corporate interest in becoming “carbon neutral” is also likely to continue. Due to recent economic disruptions, there may be some delays in achieving some previously announced commitments. However, the pressures and concerns that have motivated the interest in carbon neutrality remain powerful forces.

Listen to the full webinar.

To begin receiving Energy updates, including invitations to the Renewables Roundtable and Q&A Webinar Series, please click here.

Access past webinars in this series.




FERC Announces Tax Reform Actions and Eliminates Income Tax Allowance for Master Limited Partnerships

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.

Access the full article.




Highly Anticipated FERC Rule Removes Barriers to Electric Storage

On February 15, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a much-anticipated order designed to remove barriers to electric storage resource participation in organized wholesale electricity markets. The order—dubbed Order No. 841—creates new rules that require each regional transmission operator (RTO) and independent system operator (ISO) to revise its tariff to establish a “participation model” consisting of market rules that facilitate the participation of electric storage resources in the RTO/ISO markets. Order No. 841 will make it easier for electric storage resources to participate in wholesale power markets and access the accompanying revenue streams.

Each RTO/ISO must file its tariff changes to implement Order No. 841 within 270 days (i.e., by November 12, 2018). FERC will review the filings and must approve all tariff changes. Each RTO/ISO will have an additional one year from the filing date to implement its new tariff provisions.

FERC defined an electric storage resource as “a resource capable of receiving electric energy from the grid and storing it for later injection of the electric energy back to the grid.” This definition encompasses a variety of technologies including batteries, flywheels, compressed air and pumped hydro. It also explicitly includes resources located on a distribution system or behind the meter, as well as resources located on the interstate transmission grid, and opens the door to participation in RTO/ISO markets for smaller storage resources.

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FERC Rejects Department of Energy Proposal Benefitting Coal and Nuclear

On January 8, 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rejected the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Proposed Rule, which would have required organized wholesale electricity markets run by independent system operators (ISOs) or regional transmission organizations (RTOs) to establish tariff mechanisms for purchasing energy from eligible “reliability and resilience resources” and mandated a recovery of costs plus a return on equity for such resources. Eligible reliability and resilience resources would have to be (1) located within an RTO/ISO, (2) able to provide essential reliability services, and (3) have a 90-day fuel supply on-site. Practically, these requirements would limit participation to coal and nuclear plants. (more…)




Department of Energy Proposes Rule Benefiting Coal and Nuclear to FERC

On September 28, 2017, the US Department of Energy (DOE) submitted a proposed rule to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that, if implemented, could reshape organized wholesale electricity markets. Citing electric grid reliability and resiliency issues like the 2014 Polar Vortex and recent hurricanes, DOE asked FERC to enact a new compensation system for coal and nuclear power plants—dubbed “fuel-secure resources” by DOE. Coal and nuclear plants have been retiring prematurely and, according to DOE, the retirements are “threatening the resilience of the Nation’s electricity system.”

In order to stem the tide of retirements, DOE submitted to FERC a proposed rule requiring organized wholesale electricity markets run by independent system operators (ISOs) or regional transmission organizations (RTOs) to develop and implement market rules that “accurately price generation resources necessary to maintain the reliability and resiliency” of the bulk power system. The proposed rule would require ISOs and RTOs to provide “a just and reasonable rate” for the purchase of electricity from a fuel-secure resource and “recovery of costs and a return on equity for such resource.” Eligible resources must (i) be located within an ISO or RTO, (ii) be able to provide energy and ancillary services, (iii) have a 90-day fuel supply on site, (iv) be compliant with all environmental laws, and (v) not be subject to cost-of-service rate regulation at the state or local level. Practically, these requirements limit participation to coal and nuclear plants. (more…)




FERC Issues Policy Statement on Storage Resources with Multiple Payment Streams

Last week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a Policy Statement to provide guidance on the ability of electric storage resources to recover costs through both cost-based and market-based rates concurrently. The Policy Statement appears intended to reconcile two lines of FERC precedent on this topic. The issue of multiple payment streams is one of particular concern for electric storage resources that, due to their technological capabilities, can switch from one type of service to another almost instantaneously. The Policy Statement is separate from FERC’s ongoing Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding electric storage resource participation in wholesale electricity markets (RTO/ISO markets), discussed here and here.

FERC’s guidance stems from two orders with opposite outcomes – Nevada Hydro and Western Grid. In the 2008 Nevada Hydro order, FERC denied a hydroelectric storage project’s petition to be treated as a transmission facility that would receive payments through cost-based rates. Then, in the 2010 Western Grid order, FERC granted the applicant’s request for cost-based rate recovery for its sodium sulfur batteries that would provide voltage support and thermal overload protection for transmission facilities.

FERC identified three major concerns present in scenarios where an electric storage resource seeks both cost-based and market-based rates: (1) the potential for cost-based and market-based rate recovery to result in double recovery; (2) the potential for cost-based rates to inappropriately suppress competitive market prices; and (3) the level of control of a storage resource exercised by a RTO/ISO that could jeopardize the RTO/ISO’s independence from market participants.

To address the concern of double recovery, FERC suggested that crediting any market revenues back to the cost-based ratepayers is a possible solution. Such crediting may vary depending on how the cost-based rate is structured; FERC provided examples of an up-front reduction in the cost-based rate or a later crediting procedure for cost-based ratepayers. Addressing the issue of suppressing competitive market prices, FERC disagreed with commenters that allowing market participants with cost-based rate recovery to also sell at market-based rates would create an adverse impact on other market competitors. FERC pointed out that some vertically integrated public utilities currently recover costs through cost-based retail rates while also making market-based rate sales to others. Finally, to maintain RTO/ISO independence, FERC clarified that RTO/ISO dispatch of a storage resource should receive priority over the resource’s provision of market-based rate services and that the provision of market-based rate services should be under the control of the resource owner rather than the RTO/ISO.

FERC Commissioner LaFleur dissented from the Policy Statement, arguing that its sweeping conclusions related to storage resources may be read to reflect FERC’s views about the impact of multiple payment streams more generally. Commissioner LaFleur also disagreed with FERC’s decision to separate the issues from FERC’s pending Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on storage participation.




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