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Key Takeaways | Conventional Energy Companies Pivot to Renewables

How will traditional energy companies compete as the world transitions to renewable energy? In the latest webinar in our Energy Transition series, McDermott Will & Emery Partner Jack Langlois hosted Philip Tingle, global co-head of McDermott’s Energy and Project Finance Practice Group, and Michael Hanson, managing director of energy transition at Truist Securities, to answer exactly that. During the 30-minute discussion, they assessed the future for conventional energy companies, including key issues surrounding decarbonization and current tax credit frameworks.

Below are key takeaways from the webinar:

1. Timeline and Decision-Making. There is a broad divergence of views in how quickly the transition to renewable energy will happen, but changes in law and policy could accelerate that timeline. Conventional energy companies are taking small steps to get acclimated to new renewable opportunities because there are multiple factors they need to consider before deciding whether to enter into the renewable energy space: Strategic fit, materiality, profitability and risk. Many conventional energy companies that have successfully pivoted to renewable opportunities have done so by reutilizing their existing assets.

2. Carbon Capture. Carbon capture is often a strategic fit for oil and gas companies. However, companies, investors and banks are still struggling with the profitability of carbon capture because without government incentive, carbon capture is not profitable. The current incentive structures do not compel a sufficient amount of activity because they only compensate capture equipment owners, leaving out all the necessary downstream affiliates. Until this business model is corrected, banks especially will struggle with how to finance carbon capture.

3. Reconciliation Bill. Carbon capture incentives may be around for a while longer. In the reconciliation bill, there is a provision that would extend the Section 45Q carbon capture tax credit through the year 2032. However, the bill would also modify the tax credit to provide for wage and apprenticeship requirements. Companies will need to find ways to assure financing parties that they have met these additional requirements. If they can accomplish this, the extension period will allow greater opportunities for conventional energy companies to enter the space.

To access past webinars in this series and to begin receiving Energy updates, including invitations to the webinar series, please click here.




An Update on Wind Farm Development along the US Coastline

On October 13, 2021, during a speech at American Clean Power’s Offshore WINDPOWER Conference & Exhibition, US Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced a path forward for future offshore wind leasing along the US coastline. This announcement supports the Biden administration’s goal to install 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030 and comes approximately five months after the Biden administration approved the 800 megawatt Vineyard Wind Project.

“The Interior Department is laying out an ambitious roadmap as we advance the Administration’s plans to confront climate change, create good-paying jobs, and accelerate the nation’s transition to a cleaner energy future,” Secretary Haaland said. As part of this roadmap, Secretary Haaland also announced plans for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to potentially offer up to seven new offshore lease sales by 2025 in the Gulf of Maine, New York Bight, Central Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and offshore the Carolinas, California and Oregon.

Secretary Haaland shared that the Interior Department’s “timetable provides two crucial ingredients for success: increased certainty and transparency. Together, we will meet our clean energy goals while addressing the needs of other ocean users and potentially impacted communities. We have big goals to achieve a clean energy economy and [the Department of] Interior is meeting the moment.”

BOEM Director Amanda Lefton advised, “[w]e are working to facilitate a pipeline of projects that will establish confidence for the offshore wind industry…At the same time, we want to reduce potential conflicts as much as we can while meeting the Administration’s goal to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030. This means we will engage early and often with all stakeholders prior to identifying new Wind Energy Areas.”

As we move closer to 2030, industry investors and developers should expect to see a steady increase of offshore wind activity due to the recent announcements and the Investment Tax Credit for projects that will start construction before 2026.




Key Takeaways | The Latest Merger Control Developments under the Biden Administration

The Biden administration has placed an emphasis on antitrust enforcement that will create meaningful implications for future transactions, as well as those already consummated. In this webinar, hosted by McDermott Will & Emery partners Kevin Brophy and Lesli Esposito and associate Matt Evola, learn who the new leaders at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and US Department of Justice (DOJ) Antitrust Division are and how their approach to antitrust enforcement is already changing merger review process.

Below are key takeaways from the webinar:

1. Antitrust Agency Personnel Changes. The FTC and the DOJ Antitrust Division have recently seen leadership changes. At the FTC, US President Joe Biden appointed Lina Khan to chair, and she’s already making headlines for her efforts to “modernize” merger assessments. Chairwoman Khan has indicated that she wants the FTC to focus on addressing the “rampant consolidation” that has resulted in dominant firms across markets. She has also advocated for a holistic approach to identifying harms, a focus on power asymmetries and a need for the agency to be forward-looking. The changes she has implemented have significantly impacted merger review.

At the DOJ, President Biden appointed Jonathan Kanter, who has not yet taken office but is also expected to take an aggressive approach to enforcement, to lead the Antitrust Division.

2. President Biden’s Executive Order on Antitrust. In a July executive order, President Biden indicated that antitrust enforcement would be a top priority for his administration. The order calls for a whole-of-government approach, encompassing 72 initiatives directed at more than 12 separate agencies. The order directed the FTC and the DOJ to vigorously enforce the antitrust laws by toughening the review of future mergers and revisiting anticompetitive mergers that went unchallenged.

3. Policy Changes with Practical Implications. The FTC has been especially active in announcing new policies and procedures that will likely extend the merger review timeline and open previously consummated transactions to further scrutiny. Among these changes are:

  • The suspension of early termination for the 30-day Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976 (HSR Act) waiting period: Early termination has always been discretionary, but the FTC’s Premerger Notification Office has suspended early termination in 2021 with no resumption in sight.
  • Warning letters sent at the conclusion of the HSR Act waiting period: These “close at your own risk” letters indicate that while the waiting period has concluded, the agencies may challenge the transaction post-closing.
  • Increased requests for “pull-and-refiles”: This process restarts the HSR Act waiting period, granting agencies an additional 30 days to review a transaction, and are being requested at an increasing rate.
  • Procedural and timing changes aligning the FTC with the DOJ: Changes made at the FTC are bringing the agencies into alignment on certain procedures for second requests, and these changes are likely to extend the timeline required for responding to second requests.

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Key Takeaways | How Solar Industry Leaders are Addressing and Overcoming the US–China Trade War

The US-China trade war has caused a significant impact on the solar industry, and that impact is expected to grow. In this webinar, learn how solar industry leaders are handling the effects of the US–China trade war and how they are preparing for the future.

Our first webinar of this series featured McDermott Will & Emery partner Carl Fleming, Pine Gate Renewables Director of Regulatory Affairs Brett White, Vice President of Construction James Froelicher and Assistant General Counsel Jess Cheney.

Below are key takeaways from the webinar:

1. Withholding Release Order. The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a withholding release order (WRO) against Hoshine Silicon Industry Co. Ltd., a company located in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region wherein all silica-based products made by Hoshine and its subsidiaries are to be detained at all US ports of entry. Because of this WRO, manufacturers have been moving outside of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in order to avoid being subject to it.

There have been numerous detentions of silica-based products at multiple ports across the United States, and it is expected that the detention of materials will continue. In order to combat this, suppliers and industry leaders are presenting documentation to show that the materials are not being produced from forced labor or Hoshine and its subsidiaries.

Although the WRO was expected to cause significant disruption, it is not having as large of an impact as feared because many suppliers had already left the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

2. Anti-Dumping and Countervailing Petition. Anti-Dumping and Countervailing Petitions filed in August 2021 requested that the US Department of Commerce (DOC) include additional tariffs against solar panel imports from Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. The petitioners requested additional tariffs ranging from 50% – 250%. The DOC has yet to decide whether to investigate based on the petition, however, the impacts of the petition are already being felt with disruptions to the supply chain. If the DOC were to investigate, the solar industry would likely see a severe slowing of projects in 2022 and 2023 as neither suppliers nor developers are willing to bear the economic risk of the potential tariffs.

3. The DOC and the Biden Administration. The DOC and the Biden administration are expected to make decisions regarding tariffs, as well as anti-dumping and countervailing duties, that will directly affect the solar materials supply chain.

The Biden administration hopes to increase the domestic supply of solar materials, however, domestic manufacturers currently only produce approximately 25% of the overall demand for solar materials. As a result, the solar industry cannot immediately divert to purchasing solar materials from domestic manufacturers as the supply simply is not available. As an incentive to increase domestic manufacturing, solar industry leaders hope tax credits can be offered to companies that manufacture solar materials.

The Biden administration is expected to decide whether the 18% tariff on imported solar panels that [...]

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International News: Spotlight on the Energy Industry

US RENEWABLES: INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES PERSIST IN UNCONVENTIONAL PLACES

Christopher Gladbach | Seth B. Doughty

Apart from a few challenges, the sellers’ market in renewable energy is accelerating under the Biden administration, leading international investors to seek opportunities in non-traditional investments. Read more.

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THE US $2.3 TRILLION AMERICAN JOBS INFRASTRUCTURE PLAN

Elle Hayes | Dominique J. Torsiello | Carl J. Fleming | Ranajoy Basu

In March this year, US President Joe Biden unveiled the American Jobs Plan, the first of a two-part infrastructure package to revive the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic and the second stage of President Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda. Read more.

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RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN THE SOUTH EAST ASIA RENEWABLES MARKET

Ignatius K. Hwang | Merrick White

Despite considerable challenges, South East Asia is pulling out all the stops to transition to primarily renewable energy in the coming years. Read more.

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GREEN AMMONIA: AT THE INTERSECTION OF PETROCHEMICALS AND THE ENERGY TRANSITION

John Bridge | Parker A. Lee

As the world seeks to transition to a lower carbon economy, replacing traditional hydrocarbon-based transport fuels in the automobile, aviation, and shipping industries will be important. Read more.

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CLEAN ENERGY EMPLOYERS ARE THE NEW TARGET FOR ORGANISED LABOUR

Ellen M. Bronchetti | Ron Holland | Saniya Ahmed

Employers in the clean energy sector should be prepared to consider how changes to the US labour landscape are likely to impact their workforce. Read more.

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COMPETITION POLICY AND THE EUROPEAN GREEN DEAL: A PATHWAY TOWARDS CLEAN ENERGY AND ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Hendrik Viaene | David Henry | Karolien Van der Putten

EU competition rules—particularly State aid, merger control, and antitrust rules—are playing a key role in supporting the goals of the European Green Deal. Read more.

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NOT YET THE END FOR HYDROCARBONS

Merrick White

There has there been significant activity in the Asian upstream market this year. Who is buying mature oil fields, and why? Read more.

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ENGLISH HIGH COURT SANCTIONS RESTRUCTURING OF DTEK GROUP

Mark Fennessy | Sunay Radia | Alexander Andronikou

The recent restructuring of DTEK Group provides guidance regarding the English High Court’s position on challenges to the international effectiveness of schemes of arrangement and/or restructuring plans post-Brexit. Read more.

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Five Key Takeaways from the Green Transportation Panel at the US and UK Climate Change Business Forum

On September 22, 2021, partner Edward Zaelke moderated a panel on green transportation at the US Embassy in London during the US and UK Climate Change Business Forum, Winning the Race to Zero: Journey to COP26. Panel guests included Richard Currie, Senior Director of Public Affairs for UPS; Jamie Heywood, Regional General Manager, Northern & Eastern Europe for Uber, a representative from a large e-commerce company and Lilli Matson, Chief Safety Health & Environment Officer for Transport for London. The discussion provided remarkable insights into how these three major companies and a forward-looking transportation agency of one of the world’s largest cities are approaching the climate challenge before them. A challenge that Philip T. Reeker, former ambassador of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, noted in his closing remarks, quoting a proverb, “If you don’t change course, you will likely get to where you are heading.” Steps to change course was the focus of this invitation-only conference and, in the area of green transportation, this panel left the audience with a number of key takeaways.

  1. What’s abundantly clear is that UPS, Uber and many e-commerce companies are fully committed and have set aggressive goals to have their operations reach net zero carbon or carbon neutrality. For example, Uber seeks to electrify its fleet of vehicles in London by 2025 and in the United States by 2030. The e-commerce company on the panel is a significant purchaser of green power and seeks to achieve net zero carbon by 2040. UPS, which operates delivery vehicles and also runs a fleet of long haul trucks and its own airplanes, has set near-term goals of carbon reduction and a target of being carbon neutral by 2050.
  2. London is demonstrating a local commitment to climate change that can serve as an example for other cities around the world. Transport for London, which operates the “Tube” subway system (among its other duties), is the largest user of power in London and currently in negotiation for power purchase agreements for renewable power for its operations. In addition to encouraging use of its rapid transit system, the city bought electric buses, required that all new licensed cabs be electric, created clean air zones and congestion zones to encourage electric vehicles and greatly expanded the bike lanes on roadways throughout London.
  3. Uber, UPS and many e-commerce companies view vehicle electrification for local routes as a key to meeting their climate goals. Uber, with more than 45,000 private commercial drivers in the London area alone, is aggressively meeting the challenge. It has developed an “electric vehicle bank” for each of its drivers, where a portion of each fare goes into a savings account to help the driver replace its present vehicle with an electric vehicle. Uber customers can also request Uber Green at no additional charge. Additionally, since many of its drivers live in the suburbs where less than a third of them have off-street parking, Uber is working with the local government to create [...]

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President Biden Raises the Bar on Electrification of the Auto Industry through Executive Order

On August 5, 2021, US President Joe Biden announced and signed an executive order that sets a new target to make half of all new vehicles sold in 2030 zero-emissions vehicles, including battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric and fuel cell electric vehicles. This executive order is consistent with President Biden’s goal of building more than 500,000 electric vehicle (EV) chargers throughout the United States, which will provide manufacturing opportunities for charging infrastructure and battery technology. These new actions announced by President Biden—paired with investments in the Build Back Better agenda—aim to build up American leadership in clean cars and trucks “by accelerating innovation and manufacturing in the auto sector, bolstering the auto sector domestic supply chain, and growing auto jobs with good pay and benefits.” The executive order will commence “development of long-term fuel efficiency and emissions standards to save consumers money, cut pollution, boost public health, advance environmental justice, and tackle the climate crisis.” It also directs agencies to:

  • Consult with the US Secretaries of Commerce, Labor and Energy on ways to accelerate innovation and manufacturing in the automotive sector, strengthen the domestic supply chain for that sector and grow jobs that provide good pay and benefits, as well as,
  • Secure input from a diverse range of stakeholders, including representatives from labor unions, industry, environmental justice organizations and public health experts.

Concurrently with President Biden’s announcement, American automakers Ford, GM and Stellantis, along with the United Auto Workers (UAW), released statements saying they look forward to working with the Biden Administration to enact policies that will enable President Biden’s 2030 target to be reached. In a joint statement, Ford, GM and Stellantis also recognized that the United States’ transition to electric vehicles “represents a dramatic shift from the U.S. market today that can be achieved only with the timely deployment of the full suite of electrification policies committed to by the Administration in the Build Back Better Plan, including purchase incentives, a comprehensive charging network of sufficient density to support the millions of vehicles these targets represent, investments in R&D, and incentives to expand the electric vehicle manufacturing and supply chains in the United States.” Similarly, in a joint statement from BMW, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and Volvo, the automakers state that, “bold action from our partners in the federal government is crucial to build consumer demand for electric vehicles….” It is expected that government agencies will announce policies, procedures and regulations that will advance President Biden’s target of electric vehicles representing 50% of auto sales in 2030.




Biden Administration Issues National Security Memorandum Shortly after the House Passes Three Bills Aimed at Cybersecurity in the Energy Industry

The federal government is seeking to increase cybersecurity in critical infrastructure industries through the implementation of a voluntary Industrial Control Systems Cybersecurity Initiative (Initiative), while the US House of Representatives (House) concurrently focuses on the same goal by passing three bills aimed at enhancing cybersecurity. While it’s currently voluntary, it’s likely the Initiative—along with its performance goals issued in conjunction— may become mandatory for companies that own or operate critical infrastructure facilities.

In order to focus on strengthening the nation’s cybersecurity within the energy industry, the House recently passed the Energy Emergency Leadership Act (HR 3119), the Enhancing Grid Security through Public-Private Partnerships Act (HR 2931) and the Cyber Sense Act (HR 2928).

On July 28, 2021, shortly after the House passed the above three bills, the Biden Administration released a National Security Memorandum on Improving Cybersecurity for Critical Infrastructure Control Systems (Memorandum). The Memorandum affirmatively recognized the “[p]rotection of our Nation’s critical infrastructure is a responsibility at the Federal, State, local, Tribal and territorial levels and of the owners and operators of that infrastructure.” In order to protect such infrastructure, the administration provides that it is their policy “to safeguard the critical infrastructure of the Nation, with a particular focus on the cybersecurity and resilience of systems supporting National Critical Functions…”

As a result, the administration established the voluntary Initiative between the federal government and the critical infrastructure community with the primary objective of defending the United States’ critical infrastructure through facilitating the deployment of technologies and systems that will increase cybersecurity. The Memorandum further instructs the US Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the US Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to develop cybersecurity performance goals for critical infrastructure. The US Secretary of Homeland Security will issue initial goals for control systems no later than September 22, 2021, with cross-sector and sector-specific goals to be issued within a year of the Memorandum.

On May 7, 2021, just before 5 am, an employee in the Colonial Pipeline Co.’s control room found a ransom note sent by hackers demanding cryptocurrency. In response, Colonial Pipeline Co. Chief Executive Officer Joseph Blount shut down the entire pipeline by 6:10 am. This marked the first time in its 57-year history that Colonial Pipeline Co. shut down its entire gasoline pipeline system. Colonial Pipeline Co. paid the hackers, who were an affiliate of a Russia-linked cybercrime group known as DarkSide, a $4.4 million ransom shortly after the hack. However, the US Department of Justice announced it recovered $2.3 million of the ransom in June.

Only mere months after this significant breach of cybersecurity, the House approved HR 3119, which was introduced by US Representatives Bobby Rush (D-IL) and Tim Walberg (R-MI) to increase energy emergency and cybersecurity responsibilities as a core function for the US Department of Energy (DOE) and create a new assistant secretary position to specifically focus on these issues. In a statement released [...]

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Carbon Capture, Utilization and Sequestration – An Industry Primed for Explosive Growth? A Summary of the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s Report

On June 30, 2021, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) delivered a Carbon Capture, Utilization and Sequestration (CCUS) report to Congress in accordance with the Utilizing Significant Emissions with Innovative Technologies (USE IT) Act passed in December 2020. The CEQ report highlights an inventory of existing permitting requirements for CCUS deployment and identifies best practices for advancing the efficient, orderly and responsible development of CCUS projects at an increased rate.

The Biden Administration is “committed to accelerating the responsible development and deployment of CCUS to make it a widely available, increasing cost-effective, and rapidly scalable climate solution across all industry sectors.” CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory recognized that in order “[t]o avoid the worst impacts of climate change and reach President Biden’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, we need to safely develop and deploy technologies that keep carbon pollution from entering the air and remove pollution from the air…The report … outlines a framework for how the U.S. can accelerate carbon capture technologies and projects in a way that benefits all communities.” Development of CCUS projects and related infrastructure will be encouraged and favorably looked upon by the Biden Administration as a demonstrable example of how it’s seeking to combat climate change.

CCUS – OPPORTUNITY OF THE FUTURE FOR MIDSTREAM COMPANIES?

CCUS refers to a set of technologies that remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the emissions of point sources or the atmosphere and permanently sequesters them. In addition to removing CO2, carbon capture technology has the potential to remove other types of pollution, such as sulfur oxides. According to leading scientists and experts, removal of CO2 from the air is essential to addressing the climate crisis and alleviating the most severe impacts of climate change. Beyond the impact carbon capture technology will have on the climate crisis, CCUS will continue to have a valuable role in the US economy as the technology continues to evolve.

The CEQ report makes it extremely clear that any effective nationwide rollout of CCUS is heavily dependent on a massive buildout of pipelines for CO2 transportation infrastructure. Currently, there are approximately 45 CCUS facilities in operation or in development and 5,200 miles of dedicated CO2 pipelines. The number of CCUS facilities and the breadth of dedicated CO2 pipelines will need to expand at a rapid rate if CCUS is to become an effective tool for meeting net-zero emission by 2050.

Establishing CCUS at scale is going to be heavily dependent on—and presents a great opportunity for—midstream pipeline developers. Despite the 5,200 miles of CO2 pipelines and the potential to employ “orphaned” pipeline networks previously used by the oil and gas industry once remediated, there is no current network of CO2 pipelines at a scale large enough for permanent carbon sequestration across all industrial sectors. Thus, to achieve climate goals set by the Biden Administration, a significant amount of CO2 pipelines will need to be developed. According to the CEQ report, expansion of CO2 pipeline infrastructure in “the near term is [...]

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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.




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