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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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Five Takeaways: An In-Depth Look at the Federal Legislative Game Plan to Support Renewables

On Thursday May 14, McDermott was joined by Gregory Wetstone, president and chief executive officer of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) to discuss the latest market updates on the severe disruption and uncertainty brought on the renewables industry by COVID-19.

Five takeaways from this week’s webinar:

      1. There is no clear insight yet into what a congressional relief package regarding renewable energy might look like, despite the fact that congress is discussing its fifth COVID-19-related response bill.
      2. Even though the outlook was already pessimistic, clean energy job loss has been worse than expected; there has been a loss of 94,000 jobs in the renewable sector between March and April and 600,000 additional unemployment claims across the clean energy sector.
      3. Renewables have a great potential to continue to be part of the nation’s economic recovery; two of the fastest growing job categories in the nation have been wind turbine technicians and solar panel installer.
      4. Senior Department of Energy officials have reassured that the recent bulk power executive order is a continuation of existing policies regarding transmission corridors and is not targeted at renewables, which are recognized as valuable for national security. See the Office of Electricity’s Q&A and contact email for a response to President Trump’s signed Executive Order, “Securing the United States Bulk-Power System” and join McDermott on May 21 for a legal analysis of the EO.
      5. The commerce department is undertaking an investigation which could lead to the imposition of additional tariffs, particularly in regards to transformers; the timing for these tariffs (if enacted) is likely right before the election.

Listen to the full webinar.

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COVID-19 and Wind Projects: A Legal and Commercial Checklist for Tax Equity, Debt Financing and Project Documentation

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has severely disrupted the wind market’s supply chain and labor resources, resulting in significant project delay risk. This legal and commercial checklist is a comprehensive practitioner’s guide to help sponsors and borrowers review their tax equity, financing, offtake and material project documents to ensure compliance with obligations, prevent unnecessary default triggers, and manage relationships with banks, tax equity and other stakeholders.

Access the full article.




What COVID-19 Means For Renewable Projects And Financing

The world is facing a situation unprecedented in modern times with the global spread and impact of COVID-19. Its rapid spread has brought severe disruption and uncertainty to everyone’s personal lives, as well as to the wind, solar and storage industry supply chains, the renewable project financing market, and global markets at large.

While the speed and complexity of the virus make it impossible to know the full effects it will ultimately have on the world, what follows is what we know today about the impact of COVID-19 on the supply chains for solar, energy storage and wind developers, as well as the project finance market.

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Federal Court Rules Maryland Scheme to Promote Investment in In-State Generation Unconstitutional

by Ari Peskoe

On September 30, a Federal District Court Judge for Maryland declared that the state’s incentive scheme to encourage the construction of new gas-fired generation capacity violates the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.  By requiring incumbent utilities to supplement PJM’s market-clearing prices with payments to the developer of a new gas-fired generator, the Judge determined that Maryland’s incentive scheme impermissibly sets a wholesale rate.  The Judge’s ruling may complicate states’ efforts to ensure that FERC-jurisdictional electricity markets meet the goals of individual states.

In 1999, Maryland restructured its electricity industry, requiring its investor-owned utilities to divest their generation assets and purchase electricity in federally regulated, regional wholesale markets. In 2007, at the direction of the Maryland General Assembly, the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) published a report that concluded that the state faced a critical shortage of generation capacity.   According to the PSC, Maryland was located in a highly congested portion of the regional PJM market and therefore paid higher than average prices for wholesale energy.  The PSC found that while the PJM markets are “structured ostensibly to create price incentives for [investment in] new generation and transmission,” the markets had not responded to the state’s “looming capacity shortage.”

Following several proceedings at the PSC, including the issuance of an RFP to construct new gas-fired capacity in Maryland, in April of 2012 the PSC issued an order directing the state’s three incumbent utilities to enter into contracts for differences (CfDs) with a developer that would construct 661 megawatts of new in-state generation capacity. Under the CfDs, the utilities would pay the developer the difference between set contract prices and the PJM clearing prices for energy and capacity.  When the PJM prices were lower than the contract prices, the utilities would pay the developer.  When PJM prices were higher than the contract prices, the developer would pay the utilities.

The plaintiffs – primarily existing generators – complained that the PSC’s order impermissibly regulated the price of wholesale energy sales.  Such sales, they argued, may not be regulated by states because the “scheme of federal regulation . . . [is] so pervasive as to make reasonable the inference that Congress left no room for the states to supplement it.”  The Judge agreed, concluding that the PSC is “establish[ing] the price ultimately received [by the developer] for its physical energy and capacity sales to PJM . . . under field preemption principles, the PSC is impotent to take regulatory action to establish the price for wholesale energy and capacity sales.”  In other words, the Judge concluded that the PSC set the rate and not merely that its order affected the rate by inducing the developer to bid into the PJM markets.

The Judge rejected the defendant’s argument that the CfDs merely finance construction and therefore do intrude on FERC’s ratemaking.  First, to get paid under the CfDs the developer’s bids had to clear the PJM market.  Payment required delivery of energy and not [...]

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Massachusetts DOER Finalizes Rules for Solar Carve-Out Program

by William Friedman

The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) announced that it re-filed its Solar Carve-Out Emergency Regulation without any changes, thereby finalizing the temporary regulations that had been in effect for the past three months and bringing stability to the existing Solar Carve-Out program.  The Solar Carve-Out program enables participating solar units to produce valuable Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs), which can be sold on the open market or at auction.  Earlier this year, DOER announced that applications exceeded the Solar Carve-Out program’s 400 MW cap.  In late June, DOER released the Emergency Regulation to deal with the program’s oversubscription and to offer a path forward for projects that were uncertain as to whether they would still qualify for incentives under the Solar Carve-Out. 

Under Massachusetts law, however, the Emergency Regulation could only remain in effect for three months if not finalized into law.  Finalizing the regulations gives all projects relying on the terms of the Emergency Regulation certainty that the previously announced requirements and construction timeline will remain in force.

Along with its announcement of the re-filed regulations, DOER released a draft guideline for qualified Solar Carve-Out units seeking an extension of the December 31, 2013 construction deadline.  Under the regulations, in order to qualify for the Solar Carve-Out, a solar project must be completely installed and receive authorization to interconnect from the local distribution company by December 31, 2013.  If a project does not meet the December 31 deadline, it may receive an extension until June 30, 2014, if it can demonstrate that it expended at least 50 percent of its total construction costs by December 31, 2013. 

The draft guideline explains that DOER will only consider costs associated with building the generating units as construction costs, and will not take into account legal fees, permitting, or financing costs.  The guideline provides two alternative methods for calculating the total construction costs of a generation unit.  First, the owner or operator can multiply the solar unit’s direct current capacity by the corresponding dollar per watt cost, as set out in the table below.  Second, the owner or operator of the generation unit can provide DOER with actual demonstrated costs.  All eligible costs must be incurred no later than December 31, 2013.

No later than January 6, 2014, all generation units seeking an extension must submit their applications for extension to DOER. DOER will notify applicants of its decision within 30 days.

Finally, if a project can demonstrate that it is ready to begin operations and is only waiting for a distribution company to issue its authority to interconnect, the interconnection deadline is extended indefinitely.




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