US Department of the Treasury

On July 27, 2018, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Alta Wind v. United States, reversed and remanded what had been a resounding victory for renewable energy. The US Court of Federal Claims had ruled that the plaintiff was entitled to claim a Section 1603 cash grant on the total amount paid for wind energy assets, including the value of certain power purchase agreements (PPAs).

We have reported on the Alta Wind case several times in the past two years:

Government Appeal of Alta Wind Supports Decision to File Suit Now

Court Awards $206 Million to Alta Wind Projects in Section 1603 Grant Litigation; Smaller Award to Biomass Facility

Court Awards $206 Million to Alta Wind Projects in Section 1603 Grant Litigation; Smaller Award to Biomass Facility

Act Now To Preserve Your Section 1603 Grant

SOL and the 1603 Cash Grant – File Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

In reversing the trial court, the appellate court failed to answer the substantive question of whether a PPA that is part of the sale of a renewable energy facility is creditable for purposes of the Section 1603 cash grant.

Trial Court Decision

The Court of Federal Claims awarded the plaintiff damages of more than $206 million with respect to the cash grant under Section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the Section 1603 Grant). The court held that the government had underpaid the plaintiff its Section 1603 Grants arising from the development and purchase of large wind facilities when it refused to include the value of certain PPAs in the plaintiffs’ eligible basis for the cash grants. The trial court rejected the government’s argument that the plaintiffs’ basis was limited solely to development and construction costs. Instead, the court agreed with the plaintiffs that the arm’s-length purchase price of the projects prior to their placed-in-service date informed the projects’ creditable value. The court also determined that the PPAs specific to the wind facilities should not be treated as ineligible intangible property for purposes of the Section 1603 Grant. This meant that any value associated with the PPAs would be creditable for purposes of the Section 1603 Grant.

Federal Circuit Reverses and Remands 

The government appealed its loss to the Federal Circuit. In its opinion, the Federal Circuit reversed the trial court’s decision, and remanded the case back to the trial court with instructions. The Federal Circuit held that the purchase of the wind facilities should be properly treated as “applicable asset acquisitions” for purposes of Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 1060, and the purchase prices must be allocated using the so-called “residual method.” The residual method requires a taxpayer to allocate the purchase price among seven categories. The purpose of the allocation is to discern what amount of a purchase price should be ascribed to each category of assets, which may have significance for other parts of the IRC. For example, if the purchase price includes depreciable plant equipment and non-depreciable property (e.g., cash and marketable securities), the residual method asks the taxpayer to allocate the total purchase price between the property classes.

The Federal Circuit remanded the case back to the Claims Court to determine the proper allocation of the purchase prices of the wind facilities.

Why Is This Case Important?  

If you are in the renewable energy industry, this decision is likely very important. Indeed, there are numerous taxpayers who did not receive the full amount of their Section 1603 Grant based upon the government’s reduction of the claim for the value of a PPA. This case will have precedential effect on those taxpayers’ claims. Moreover, the decision will affect how the industry prices deals for renewable facilities. These transactions have historically involved substantial financial modeling based upon cash flows.

The Federal Circuit Left the Primary Issue Unanswered

The Federal Circuit left the primary issue in the case, whether the PPA is creditable for purposes of the Section 1603 Grant, to the trial court to decide on remand. Accordingly, if the trial court determines that the PPAs cannot be divorced from the wind farm facilities assets, they will be correctly allocated to “Class V” in IRC section 1060, and will be credit able for purposes of the Section 1603 Grant. Implicitly, this is what the trial court had already decided, and the result would obtain the same economic result for the plaintiff as its original ruling. We will continue to follow this matter to see whether the trial court follows the prevailing thinking on this issue and of a decade of legal support.

As you may know, several taxpayers have sued the federal government because they believe they were underpaid under the Section 1603 grant program. Indeed, the taxpayer in the Alta Wind case was successful in convincing the court that the government had inappropriately reduced the amount of its 1603 grant by approximately $200 million. For more information about the Alta Wind case, see our previous On the Subject, “Act Now to Preserve Your Section 1603 Grant.” We have been following these cases, and believe that the grant applicants have strong arguments in their favor. As expected, right before the New Year, the US government appealed the Alta Wind case, asking the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to overturn that decision.

Taxpayers with the same or similar legal issue need to make a decision of what to do. We strongly recommend that you file your case immediately against the government seeking redress for the inappropriate reduction in the amount of the 1603 grant that the government paid to you. If you file suit, we expect the court will stay your case pending the outcome of the Alta Wind appeal. Nevertheless, we believe that this is the best course of action for the reasons outlined below:

  • First, filing suit now will toll the statute of limitations on your claims. Every case must be filed within the statute of limitations. If you do not file your suit within the statute of limitations, you will not be permitted to file suit in the future. Appeals can take years to resolve. If you wait until the court rules on the Alta Wind appeal you risk losing your claim because the statute of limitations may have expired by the time that case is fully decided. Filing your claim now will stop the limitations period from running, preserving your ability to have your claims heard by the court.
  • Second, we expect that the appeals court will affirm the taxpayer’s win in Alta Wind. If you have a pending case in court when that occurs, you will be in a better position than those taxpayers who wait to file suit because the government will have to address your case immediately after the appeal is decided and the stay is lifted. Moreover, filing suit and “getting in line” early will be especially important if the government tries to settle the claims against it because you will be able to argue that you should be entitled to a greater percentage of your claim than if you had filed after the appellate court rules against the government.
  • Lastly, filing suit now will increase your ability to withstand any attempts by the US Department of the Treasury to retroactively change the 1603 grant program. The new administration has taken over, and it is possible that it could implement rules for the Section 1603 grant program that are harmful to your claim and try to implement them retroactively. That is an issue that would have to be litigated, but your argument would be easier to make if you have a pending case at the time the rules are implemented.

We estimate that the cost of filing your suit will be very low, but the benefits can be very important to positioning yourself for the best possible outcome.

Additionally, we would encourage you to join forces with other taxpayers that have the same or similar issue, and file an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief in the pending Alta Wind appeals case. We are in the process of assembling a coalition of taxpayers to file an amicus brief. The amicus brief would, of course, be in support of the taxpayer’s case and legal theory, which could also improve your case in court.

Please contact us if you would like to discuss this matter further.

On August 31, 2016, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and US Department of the Treasury issued final regulations (Final Regulations) under section 856 of the Internal Revenue Code to clarify the definition of “real property” for purposes of sections 856 through 859 relating to real estate investment trusts (REITs). The Final Regulations largely follow proposed regulations issued in 2014 (Proposed Regulations) by providing a safe harbor list of assets and establishing facts and circumstances tests to analyze other assets.

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President Obama’s recently released budget proposal for the 2017 fiscal year repeats many of his past energy-related tax proposals, including a permanent extension of the renewable energy production tax credit and a provision making it refundable. Making the production tax credit permanent and refundable signals the administration’s continued strong support for renewable energy. This On the Subject summarizes the key energy-related tax provisions contained in the budget proposal and detailed further in the US Department of the Treasury’s general explanation of the proposal.

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