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Key Takeaways | Legislative Update on Renewable Energy Tax Incentives

On November 17, McDermott Partners Philip Tingle and Heather Cooper were joined by Bill Parsons, COO of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), for a discussion on recent legislative activity regarding renewable energy tax incentives and how it will affect current tax credits as well as those in the center of the renewables space.

Below are key takeaways from the webinar:

1. Negotiations surrounding the Build Back Better Act and progress regarding the substance of the bill have been moving at a rapid pace. Despite some uncertainties, the hope is that something will be passed before year-end—and the tax credits component is likely to look very similar to the current proposal.

2. A shift in thinking has taken place in US Congress, specifically, the clean energy tax regime is now seen as a credible driver in achieving the Biden administration’s decarbonization and climate goals.

3. Industry participants are assessing whether the direct pay component of the Build Back Better Act will dramatically change the tax equity market. Several factors will determine how direct pay will affect said market, including the timing of payments, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) scrutiny, availability of depreciation and tax basis step-ups, permissiveness of waivers, congressional oversight and the proposed minimum book tax.

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




Key Takeaways | Lender Outlook on the Debt Financing of Renewables and Transactions

During the latest webinar in our Energy Transition series, McDermott Partners Robert da Silva Ashley and John Bridge hosted Paul Pace, SVP and team leader at KeyBank, and Andrew Chen, managing director at CIT, to discuss the current outlook of leading lenders in the US renewables and transactions space. More specifically, they focused on lender outlook regarding the state of debt market support for the growing range of renewable power generation and clean energy infrastructure projects.

Below are key takeaways from the webinar:

1. The financing market for renewable projects remains extremely competitive, compressing pricing for lenders and driving innovations in financing structures with credit increasingly given to shorter tenured power purchased agreements (PPAs) and earlier merchant tails.

2. Current supply chain delays and inflationary pressures are creating significant stress. Solar panels and other major equipment are stuck in ports and sharp rises in project costs (insurance, labor wages, operations and maintenance, etc.) are starting to have a noticeable effect on the viability of certain project developments.

3. Lenders have been leaning heavily on client relationships with established track records of successful project developments, strong financial footing and credibility with industry counterparties helping to navigate the current challenges.

4. Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) remains a focus for banking institutions driven by regulatory and environmental factors.

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




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.




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.

View the full issue here.




Nine Governors Issue Letter to President Biden Urging Continued Prioritization of Offshore Wind Development

On June 4, 2021, days before the Biden Administration announced its intent to consider further expansion of offshore wind development in the Gulf of Mexico, nine governors issued a joint letter to US President Joe Biden’s administration to commend its commitment to offshore wind development and provide recommendations to build upon the momentum to prioritize offshore wind development in the United States.

Signed by the governors of Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Virginia, the letter urges the Biden Administration to continue to prioritize offshore wind development while also focusing on the development of a long-term relationship and plan between the federal and state governments to advance the offshore wind industry. According to the governors’ joint letter, doing so will create thousands of jobs and cause significant investments to be made in aging ports and the accompanying US supply chain that will build, operate and maintain the new infrastructure.

The governors further noted that the expansion of the offshore wind industry “creates an unprecedented opportunity for the United States to capture significant economic development activity and build equity in coastal communities while improving air quality and increasing the option for energy diversity.” However, the governors also recognized in their joint letter that realization of this opportunity will depend on several variables, including “the pace and uniformity of the federal permitting process, the degree of regional coordination among states, the amount of available space in federal lease areas, the potential impacts on marine resources, and the availability of supporting infrastructure to deliver high-voltage power from project areas to the mainland.”

Notwithstanding, the governors aim to collaborate across their respective states to consult with one another regarding any permitting challenges, natural resource consideration, opportunities to coordinate schedules and to align construction timelines so that states’ respective clean energy targets may be met. Additionally, the governors provided the following strategies to support offshore wind development:

  • Set long-term targets for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s lease area scoping and establishment that are informed by state clean energy goals
  • Supplement interstate coordination during project design and permitting processes
  • Consider setting long-term targets for offshore wind ports that can support the scale and timeline of state procurement targets
  • Ensure adequate transmission capacity
  • Provide support for other marine industries and users



Biden Administration Aims to Fix “Structural Weaknesses” in Key Supply Chains and Rolls Out National Blueprint for Lithium Ion Batteries

The White House released a report on June 8, 2021, detailing the findings and recommendations of a crucial supply chains review ordered by US President Joe Biden in February. The order directed the examination of semiconductors, electric vehicle (EV) batteries, critical minerals and pharmaceuticals, four products that are critical to American national security, economic security and technological leadership. Tuesday’s report found “structural weaknesses” in the supply chains of all four products, which were only worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Biden Administration plans to take the following actions to address these structural weaknesses:

  • Issuing a national blueprint on lithium EV batteries to improve domestic production
  • Financing key strategic areas of EV battery development using the US Department of Energy’s loan authority
  • Forming a strike force to “propose enforcement actions against unfair foreign trade practices” that have harmed these crucial supply chains, including potentially using the controversial Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to restrict imports of neodymium magnets (a key component of electric motors)
  • Establishing a public-private consortium to onshore the production of essential medicines

Taking a more holistic approach, the National Blueprint for Lithium Batteries (Blueprint) set five broad goals to improve the domestic lithium battery manufacturing industry. Those goals include:

  • Securing access to raw and refined materials, as well as discovering alternatives for critical minerals for commercial and defense applications
  • Supporting the growth of a US materials-processing base that’s able to meet domestic battery manufacturing demand
  • Stimulating the US electrode, cell and pack manufacturing sectors
  • Enabling end-of-life reuse, critical materials recycling at scale and a full competitive value chain in the United States
  • Maintaining and advancing US battery technology leadership by strongly supporting scientific research and development (R&D), science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and workforce development

The report calls for a variety of policies to achieve these goals, including promoting private investment in the mining, battery manufacturing and recycling industries, training workers for employment throughout the lithium battery supply chain and making use of public-private partnerships to encourage investment and ensure industry alignment with the Blueprint’s goals.

The report also called for congressional action to fund at least $50 billion in semiconductor R&D and to incentivize the adoption of electric cars through the passage of legislation.

Michael Burnett, a summer associate in the Washington, DC, office, also contributed to this blog post.




Why 2030 is the New 2050 after the Leaders Climate Summit and What President Biden’s Accelerated Transition to a Sustainable Economy Means for Renewables Developers, Investors and Corporates

2030 is the new 2050 as US President Joe Biden has officially set a new goal for fighting climate change over the next decade in the United States. At the Leaders Climate Summit (the Summit) on Earth Day, he announced that America would aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions at least 50% below its 2005 levels by 2030. If successful, this transition would lead to a very different America and would affect virtually every corner of the nation’s economy, including the way Americans get to work, the sources from which we heat and cool our homes, the manner in which we operate our factories, the business models driving our corporations and the economic factors driving our banking and investment industries. The effectiveness of this transition lies in the administration’s ability to pull on two historically powerful levers: Tax policy and infrastructure funding. However, tax policy will call upon multiple sublevers, such as increased tax rates, expanded tax credits, refundability, carbon capture, offshore wind, storage, transmission and infrastructure investment. All of this will be bolstered by the American corporate sector’s insatiable appetite for environmental, sustainability and governance (ESG) goal investment.

QUICK TAKEAWAYS

There were six key announcements at the Summit for renewables developers, investors and corporates to take note:

  1. The United States’ commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% – 52% below its 2005 emissions levels by 2030
  2. The United States’ economy to reach net-zero emissions by no later than 2050
  3. The United States to double the annual climate-related financing it provides to developing countries by 2024
  4. The United States to spend $15 billion to install 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations along roads, parking lots and apartment buildings
  5. A national goal to cut the price of solar and battery cell prices in half
  6. A national goal to reduce the cost of hydrogen energy by 80%

President Biden’s goals are ambitious. It is clear from the history of renewable incentives in the United States as well as current developments that moving forward, the green agenda will predominately rely on two primary levers being pulled at the federal level: Tax policy and infrastructure funding. The federal tax levers mentioned above will not be pulled in a vacuum. Instead, they will be pulled in the midst of a tectonic shift among individual investors that now demand that institutional investors and corporations begin to create and meet ESG goals as individual customers are beginning to take a corporation’s climate goals and footprint into account when making purchasing decisions.

As a result, we discuss the following areas in greater detail below:

  1. Tax policy
    1. increased tax rates
    2. expanded tax credits
    3. refundability
    4. carbon capture
    5. offshore wind
    6. storage
    7. transmission
  2. Infrastructure bill
  3. ESG environment

DEEPER DIVE: BREAKING DOWN EACH LEVER AS WELL AS ITS OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES

  1. Tax Policy: The consistent message from the Biden Administration, at the Summit and elsewhere, makes clear that tax policy will likely play a significant role in the administration’s ambitious climate agenda. At [...]

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Senate Democrats Propose Overhaul of Clean Energy Incentives

US Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the Clean Energy for America Act (the Act), along with two dozen Democratic co-sponsors, on April 21, 2021. The Act will likely be a starting point for the Biden administration tax proposals intended to limit carbon emissions. The Act would change the current system for incentives for the renewable energy industry to a technology-neutral approach for generation that is carbon free or has net negative carbon emissions. The Act would also provide tax incentives for qualifying improvements in transmission assets and stand-alone energy storage with the aim of improving reliability of the transmission grid. Instead of requiring that taxpayers who qualify for the clean energy incentives have current or prior tax liabilities, the Act would create a new direct pay option allowing for refunds of the tax credits.

The Act would replace the current renewable energy incentives with a new clean electricity production and investment credit, which would allow taxpayers to choose between a 30% investment tax credit (ITC) or a production tax credit (PTC) equal to 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour. The credit would apply to new construction of and certain improvements to existing facilities with zero or net negative carbon emissions placed in service after December 31, 2022. The Act would phase out the current system of credits for specific technologies. To provide time for transition relief and for coordination between the US Department of the Treasury (Treasury) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Act extends current expiring clean energy provisions through December 31, 2022.

The Secretary of Treasury, in consultation with the Administrator of the EPA shall establish greenhouse gas emissions rates for types or categories of facilities which qualify for the credits. To incentivize additional emissions reductions from existing fossil fuel power plants and industrial sources, the Section 45Q tax credit would be extended until the power and industrial sectors meet emissions goals. The Act would modify the qualifying capture thresholds to require that a minimum percentage of emissions are captured. Once certain emissions targets are met—namely, a reduction in emissions for the electric power sector to 75% below 2021 levels—the incentives will phase out over five years.

Qualifying transmission grid improvements are also eligible for the 30% ITC including standalone energy storage property. Storage technologies are not required to be co-located with power plants and include any technologies that can receive, store and provide electricity or energy for conversion to electricity. Transmission property includes transmission lines of 275 kilovolts (kv) or higher, plus any necessary ancillary equipment. Regulated utilities have the option to opt-out of tax normalization requirements for purposes of the grid improvement credit. However, the Act does not include a similar option to opt-out of the tax normalization provisions for other types of qualifying facilities, such as solar or wind projects.

Under the Act, investments qualifying for the clean emission investment credit, grid credit or energy storage property in qualifying low-income areas qualify for higher credit rates. The Act also includes new provisions requiring [...]

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IRS Extends Deadline for ITC and PTC Projects

The IRS yesterday released anticipated guidance extending the placed-in-service deadline for the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and Production Tax Credit (PTC). Under Notice 2020-41, the “Continuity Safe Harbor” was extended to five years for any project that otherwise began construction in 2016 or 2017.

As background, the applicable credit rate for the ITC and PTC turns on when a project begins construction. The IRS has issued a series of Notices providing guidance on when a project begins construction for these purposes. Under the guidance, taxpayers can either satisfy the “Five Percent Safe Harbor” or “Physical Work Test”. In addition to requiring certain activities in the year construction begins, both methods include a second prong, requiring certain continuous work until the project is placed in service. The IRS has previously provided the Continuity Safe Harbor, under which a project will be treated as having met the second prong so long as it is placed in service by the end of the fourth year after which construction begins on the project. If the project cannot meet the Continuity Safe Harbor, the taxpayer must satisfy the continuity requirement through facts and circumstances.

In the case of the Five Percent Safe Harbor (which requires continuous efforts), demonstrating facts and circumstances is time-intensive and challenging, and is inherently uncertain. In the case of the Physical Work Test (which requires continuous physical work), demonstrating facts and circumstances is likely impossible across four years, leaving many of these projects economically unviable in the absence of IRS relief.

The new Notice extends the Continuity Safe Harbor by one year – from four years to five years – for any projects that began construction in 2016 or 2017. This is welcomed relief for projects that have experienced delays related to COVID-19. The relief is particularly helpful in that it is a blanket extension for any projects that otherwise began construction in 2016 or 2017, without requiring taxpayers prove that delays were specifically related to COVID-19. If the extension were only available for COVID-19 delays, the relief would have had limited value, as taxpayers would have simply gone from trying to demonstrate facts and circumstances relating to continuous work, to having to demonstrate facts and circumstances relating to the nature of the delays. This blanket relief was particularly important, given the cascading impact of COVID-19 through the economy and the renewables industry – which experienced delays relating to supply chains, and also relating to financing and regulatory issues, among others. The extension of the safe harbor provides needed economic certainty for all of these projects.

Notice 2020-41 also provides relief for projects that intended to satisfy the Five Percent Safe Harbor in late 2019 but where equipment has been delayed. Under the existing guidance, costs are taken into account in 2019 under the Five Percent Safe Harbor if they are paid before December 31, 2019 and the property or services are delivered within 105 days of payment (the “105 Day Rule”).  Under the new guidance, if a taxpayer made payment on [...]

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