Renewable Energy Financing Scramble in Shadow of Baucus Tax Proposal

on January 27, 2014 at 12:00 PM
Senate Resumes Deliberations On FY2014 Budget Resolution

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) walks toward the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill

As Beltway types rush to make their opinions known on Senator Max Baucus’ energy tax revision proposals before a response deadline at the end of this month, financiers are scrambling to get deals together that can support renewable energy projects already underway.

Tax policy has been a major component of energy policy in the US for decades, but mounting complexity and short-termism among supporters for tax policy extensions on Capitol Hill has prompted widespread calls to revisit the tax code and simplify its relationship to energy development in the US.

Financing for renewable energy has long been a boom-and-bust game rooted in tax policy and regular expiration and renewal of both production tax credits (loved by wind energy developers) and investment tax credits (preferred by solar energy developers, who don’t have access to a PTC). Both sectors had a busy 2013, Kaye Scholer LLP partner Madeleine Tan and counsel Gregg Benson said in a recent discussion on renewable energy financing outlooks.

Wind energy developers who rushed to meet IRS definitions of construction starts by the expiration of the latest PTC extension by the end of last year now need to get those projects more fully financed and construction accelerated so they can meet an in-service date prior to January 2016. Solar developers had less of a time crunch, but the success of some securitization offerings last year set a precedent for anticipated further securitization this year, Tan said.

Now both sectors are closely watching the progress of energy tax talks in Washington, simultaneously hopeful for greater certainty on benefits and wary of revisions to ITC provisions and proposed changes to depreciation schedules.

Senator Max Baucus made a splash at the end of December 2013 by releasing a tax proposal that could significantly simplify provisions of the existing energy tax code, but then promptly was announced as the Obama Administration’s choice for next ambassador to China. Pending confirmation of that appointment, Baucus’ proposals are now seen as an opportunity to move ahead with piecemeal extensions and changes rather than a universal reworking of the tax code at a time of deep polarization and regular Congressional legislative logjams.

Presumably, if Baucus’ proposals are enacted, legislation would provide greater certainty for the sector, Benson said.

In the meantime, the industry isn’t waiting for Washington. Investor appetite for strong projects backed by known developers is robust from both tax equity and debt lenders, Tan said.

Peter Gardett is Founding Editor of Breaking Energy. He consults for a wide range of energy firms, but not with any of the firms or individuals directly mentioned in this piece.