MBA Candidate at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School | Tax Equity | Energy Finance | M&A | Corporate Development | Energy Transition | Strategy

What are transferable tax credits?

Tax credits are a mechanism by which the US government aims to stimulate investment in clean energy projects such as solar, wind, and other alternative energy sources. The objective is to accelerate the energy transition towards more sustainable sources. However, due to varying state rules and regulations, the government cannot provide direct cash incentives to these projects. Instead, tax benefits are offered as incentives.

One major challenge is that many clean energy developers do not have sufficient tax liabilities to fully utilize the tax benefits generated from their projects. To address this, the Tax-Equity Partnership model was traditionally used. In this arrangement, a clean energy project owner would partner with an investor who had enough tax liabilities. The tax benefits would primarily go to the tax equity investor, while the project developer would receive the majority of the cash benefits.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022 introduced significant changes. Effective from January 1, 2023, section 6418 of the Internal Revenue Code allows eligible taxpayers to elect to transfer all or part of their eligible tax credits to another taxpayer. The receiving taxpayer, or transferee, can then claim these tax credits on their tax returns. This new provision offers greater flexibility and the potential to attract a broader range of investors, as it no longer requires the tax equity partnership structure. It simplifies the process for developers to monetize tax credits and for investors to receive a return on investment without needing a direct connection to the clean energy project.

This shift is expected to facilitate a more robust market for clean energy investments by expanding the pool of potential investors beyond those with large tax appetites. It could potentially lower the cost of capital for these projects and streamline the funding process, contributing to a faster and more efficient energy transition.

For instance, Imagine a company, XYZSolar, that develops a solar farm with a potential to generate $1 million in tax credits due to its contribution to clean energy production. Historically, XYZSolar would have had to enter into a tax-equity partnership if it didn’t have enough tax liability to use these credits fully. This might involve partnering with a hypothetical bank Tom Bank Corp, which has a large tax burden and could utilize the credits. In exchange, Tom Bank Corp would provide capital for the project, and the partnership agreement would dictate that Tom Bank receives most of the tax benefits while XYZSolar gets a share of the revenue from selling the energy.

Now, under the new provisions post-IRA, XYZSolar has more options. If XYZSolar doesn’t have enough tax liability to use the $1 million in credits, it can now transfer some or all of these credits to another entity willing to buy them. Let’s say TechInnovate, a technology company with a substantial tax liability, is interested in reducing its tax bill and supporting green energy.

XYZSolar agrees to transfer $500,000 of its tax credits to TechInnovate. In return, TechInnovate pays XYZSolar for these credits at a negotiated rate, which is typically less than the dollar value of the credit but still provides XYZSolar with much-needed capital. TechInnovate can then apply these credits to reduce its tax liability, and XYZSolar can use the capital to fund operations or invest in new projects.

Transferable tax credits offers several advantages:

Attracting Investment: By allowing the transfer of tax credits, renewable projects become more attractive to a broader range of investors. Investors who can fully utilize these credits are more likely to invest in such projects.

Enhancing Liquidity: Transferable tax credits enhance the liquidity for project developers. They can sell these credits for immediate capital, which can be reinvested in the project or used for other purposes.

Market Expansion: The transferability of tax credits can lead to the expansion of the renewable energy market. It lowers the barrier for entry for smaller players who might not have been able to utilize these credits themselves.

Economic Stimulation: By making renewable energy projects more financially attractive, transferable tax credits stimulate economic activity in this sector, leading to job creation and technological innovation.

Encouraging Renewable Energy Adoption: Transferability supports the broader goal of increasing the adoption of renewable energy. By making projects more financially feasible, it accelerates the shift towards cleaner energy sources.

Diversifying Funding Sources: Developers are not solely reliant on traditional financing methods; they can leverage tax credits as a form of funding, diversifying their financial sources and reducing risk.

Price Reduction for Consumers: Ultimately, the increased viability and investment in renewable energy projects can lead to a reduction in the cost of renewable energy for consumers.

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