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Key Takeaways: SPACs and How to Plug into the Opportunities They Present in Renewable Energy and Green Infrastructure

On April 14, McDermott Will & Emery partners Tom Conaghan and Carl Fleming and Nicole Neeman Brady, CEO and director of the renewable energy SPAC, Sustainable Development Acquisition I Corp, discussed the rise of special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs), the opportunities they present in renewable energy and in the transition to green infrastructure and the complex legal and business challenges these vehicles present.

Below are key takeaways from the webinar:

  1. There has been an increase in SPAC activities in recent years, and this presents an opportunity for sponsors, investors and private companies. Each stakeholder has distinct advantages for entering into a SPAC transaction.
  2. Sponsors are able to take advantage of the industry experience they already have, including in the capital markets sector and the specific industry sector of the target company. Investors have downside protection with the money they invest, which may be refunded at a later date. Investors are also eligible to purchase warrants in connection with SPAC initial public offerings (IPOs), offering additional protection. Private companies are offered access to capital markets without having to undergo a traditional IPO, which is a burdensome process in complying with various regulations and underwriter requirements.
  3. Various SPACs consider different factors in making investments. Sustainable Development Acquisition I Corp, for example, looks for sustainability goals that balance profit and purpose as a B Corp. and prioritizes companies that have expertise and goals that are consistent with sustainable growth.
  4. Private companies that are hoping to do a SPAC transaction should prepare in advance to make sure it is ready to comply with public company laws and regulations. These rules are complex and will require long lead times before the company is in a position to be regulated as a public company. In particular, preparation of financial statements can be challenging to prepare. As there is an 18- to 24-month deadline for SPACs, private companies would benefit from getting a head start in preparation.
  5. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has recently been more involved with IPOs conducted through SPACs, including publishing a primer on SPAC transactions and a statement on whether warrants should be treated as equity or liability for accounting purposes. In light of such recent developments from the SEC, all stakeholders should exercise more caution in performing SPAC transactions and avoid cutting corners.

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




The Carbon Tax Checklist

Many stakeholders have called for the United States to adopt a carbon tax. Such a tax could raise billions of dollars in annual revenue while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Several carbon tax proposals were introduced in the last Congress (2019-2020 term), and it is likely that several more will be introduced in the new Congress. Several conservative economists have endorsed the idea, as has Janet Yellen, President Biden’s Secretary of the Treasury. But the details of a carbon tax matter—for revenue generation, emissions reductions and fairness. Because Congress is likely to consider several competing carbon tax proposals this year, this article provides a way to compare proposals with a checklist of 10 questions to ask about any specific legislative carbon tax proposal, to help understand that proposal’s design and implications.

1. What form does the tax take: Is it an emissions tax, a fuel tax or a production tax?

The point of a carbon tax is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by imposing a price on those emissions. But there is more than one way to impose that price. Critically, the range of options depends, to a very large degree, on the type of greenhouse gas the tax is trying to address.

The most ubiquitous greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide (CO2) and the largest source of CO2 emissions is the combustion of fossil fuels. Those emissions can be addressed by imposing a fee on each individual emission source or by taxing the carbon content of the fuel—because carbon content is a reliable predictor of CO2 emissions across different combustion circumstances. Most carbon tax proposals are fuel tax proposals; they impose a tax on fuel sales, corresponding to the amount of CO2 that will be emitted when the fuel is burned.

For CO2 emissions, the fuel tax approach has one significant advantage over the emissions fee approach. The fuel tax can be imposed “upstream,” rather than “downstream,” thereby reducing the total number of taxpayers and the overall administrative burdens associated with collecting the tax. A tax imposed on petroleum products as they leave the refinery, for example, is a way to address CO2 emissions from motor vehicles without the need to tax every individual owner of a gasoline-powered car. Most CO2-related carbon tax proposals work that way—they are upstream fuel taxes rather than downstream emissions taxes.

But not all greenhouse gas emissions can be addressed through a fuel tax, because not all greenhouse gas emissions come from fossil fuel combustion. Methane, for example, is released in significant quantities from cows, coal mines and natural gas production systems. A carbon tax directed at those emissions is likely to take the form of an emissions fee imposed on the owner or operator of the emission source. Many carbon tax proposals, however, simply ignore methane emissions or expressly exempt agricultural sources.

Fluorinated gases are yet another type of greenhouse. If they are subjected to a carbon tax, that tax is likely to take the form of a production tax, which would be imposed [...]

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