Category: Solar

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President Trump Imposes Tariffs on Imported Solar Modules and Cells
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Washington, D.C. Partner Recognized in #Solar100
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Tax Reform Conference Bill Released: PTC and ITC Emerge Battered
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The Senate has passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Is this the next drop in the renewable energy roller coaster?
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Today’s House vote in Favor of H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act
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ITC Commissioners Recommend Tariffs and Quotas on Imports of Solar Cells and Modules; President May Announce Final Remedy Decision before End of 2017
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Suniva Injury Finding Announced: Solar Import Remedies Heading to a Political Decision
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Teresa A. Hill Named to National Law Journal’s “Energy & Environmental Trailblazers”
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New Treasury Guidance Significantly Expands Field of Renewable Energy Projects That May Qualify for the PTC or ITC
10
Next Steps for Community Solar After the Passage of Oregon’s Landmark Clean Energy Legislation

President Trump Imposes Tariffs on Imported Solar Modules and Cells

By Stacy Ettinger and James Wrathall

President Trump announced the imposition of tariffs on imported crystalline silicon photovoltaic (“CSPV”) modules and cells, as previously recommended by the U.S. International Trade Commission.  The tariffs will be effective February 7, 2018.

Importers will be required to pay a tariff in the amount of 30 percent of the entered value in the first year, declining by 5 percent a year in each of the second, third, and fourth years.  With respect to CSPV solar cells, the first 2.5 gigawatts imported in each year will be exempted from the tariff.  These tariffs are in addition to the antidumping and countervailing duties relief previously imposed by the U.S. Department of Commerce on Chinese solar imports.

For U.S. solar developers and installers, the initial 30 percent tariff is expected to add 10 to 15 cents per watt to the final installed price.  Green Tech Media Research (“GTM”) has predicted this will cause a reduction of approximately 10 percent in U.S. installed solar capacity.  The tariffs do not apply to technologies other than CSPV, specifically thin film modules.  Therefore manufacturers of thin film products such as Solar Frontier and First Solar may see increased relative market share.

The biggest impacts on projects are expected in the utility-scale solar sector, which is largely dependent on being competitive with other generation sources.  Residential solar is viewed as more resilient and less sensitive to price changes.

Some CSPV manufacturing might shift to free trade agreement countries not included in the injury finding.  In particular, manufacturers based in Singapore or Canada may benefit, if the President’s proclamation reflects the approach taken by a majority of the ITC Commissioners to exclude these countries from the tariff program.

China, South Korea, and other countries with exports subject to the tariffs will likely file complaints before the World Trade Organization (“WTO”).  It is unclear what position the current Administration would take in response to an adverse WTO decision, if any. In any case, the WTO dispute settlement process itself could take anywhere from two to four years to complete.

Companies should consider steps to mitigate impacts of these tariffs.  Reportedly over two gigawatts of modules have already been procured for 2018 projects in the United States.  Accessing stockpiles of solar equipment may aid in reducing economic impacts.

The formal proclamation signed today by President Trump provides for exclusion of particular products from the safeguard measure. Procedures for requests for exclusion will be published in the Federal Register within 30 days.  Companies may want to review the product exclusion process and consider whether an exclusion request is warranted.

 

Tax Reform Conference Bill Released: PTC and ITC Emerge Battered

By Elizabeth C. Crouse

Earlier this evening, the conference committee considering the tax reform bills previously passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate released legislative text for the much rumored conference bill. Although neither the Production Tax Credit (“PTC”) nor the Investment Tax Credit (“ITC”) are directly impacted, the Base Erosion and Anti-Abuse Tax (often referred to as the “BEAT” or “International AMT”) provides only partial relief for U.S. corporations subject to that tax that have PTCs or ITCs available to offset their U.S. federal income tax.

Under the conference bill, a U.S. corporation that is subject to the International AMT may use up to the lesser of 80% of the PTCs and ITCs available to them or the “base erosion minimum tax amount” only through 2025. The PTC and ITC cannot be used to eliminate any International AMT otherwise due.

As in previous iterations of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the conference bill does not distinguish between PTCs and ITCs earned in respect of qualifying projects that have already been placed in service or begun construction. In addition, although the International AMT rate has been adjusted (5% for tax years beginning in 2018, 10% for tax years beginning between 2019 and 2025, and 12.5% thereafter), the rate applicable to U.S. corporations that are in an affiliated group with any bank or registered securities dealer will always be 1% higher than the generally applicable rate. In addition, the PTC and ITC cannot be used to reduce the International AMT due in any tax year beginning in 2026 or thereafter.

Thus, although the impact of the International AMT is somewhat reduced in the conference bill, the International AMT could still prompt some multinational investors in renewable energy projects to divest certain operating projects and projects under development as well as discourage investment in new projects.

The Senate has passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Is this the next drop in the renewable energy roller coaster?

By Elizabeth C. Crouse

Early in the morning of Saturday, December 2, the U.S. Senate voted along party lines to approve its version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the “Act”). The U.S. House of Representatives approved its rather different version of the bill on Thursday, November 16, 2017. Although the two bills now must proceed through the conference process to reconcile their differences, many predict that any bill ultimately sent to the President will largely resemble the Senate version. It is not clear how long the conference process may take, but Congressional Republicans have indicated that they intend to send a final bill to the President before Christmas, perhaps as early as December 15. Ultimately, while it appears that the investment tax credit (“ITC”) and production tax credit (“PTC”) provisions likely will not be changed in the reconciliation bill, the net effect of other provisions, particularly a new “International AMT,” may significantly chill the tax equity market that supports much of the renewable energy industry.

The PTC and ITC Provisions Are Not Expected to Change

The tax reform measure approved by the full Senate includes several changes compared to the version approved by the Senate Finance Committee and also differs in some significant ways compared to the House bill. It is important to note that while the House bill includes dramatic cuts to the PTC and more limited revisions to the ITC, the Senate bill would not change either credit program. During the Senate Finance Committee mark-up, Republicans indicated their intent to address the availability of the ITC and PTC for certain “orphan” technologies before the end of the year. Addressing energy provisions in a different tax package would relieve some of the pressure on revenues in the tax reform bill as lawmakers must stay within the budget reconciliation instruction constraints, including that the deficit may not be increased by more than $1.5 trillion over a ten-year period.

Provisions That May Suppress Tax Equity Investment

However, both bills include radical changes to corporate and international taxation that may suppress investment in renewable energy projects that qualify for the ITC and PTC.

  • First, the change in the corporate income tax rate to a flat 20% rate (or perhaps a 22% rate, based on recent statements from the President), temporary renewal of 100% bonus depreciation and increased expensing of capital investments are expected to reduce appetite for tax credits because of generally reduced corporate exposure to U.S. federal income taxes. In addition, the Senate bill would not repeal the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax. (Under current law, a corporation that is subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax may be required to pay tax on income that would otherwise be sheltered by the PTC or ITC under certain circumstances. However, there is a significant effort to at least reduce the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax in the reconciliation bill.).
  • Second, in the course of changing the United States from a “worldwide” to a “territorial” tax system, the bills would add “base erosion” provisions that may inhibit investment by multinational corporations in the United States generally and specifically in PTC and ITC projects. In other words, under the bills, a person would be required to pay U.S. federal income tax on the income it earns in the United States, but not outside of the United States. The base erosion provisions are intended to limit the ability of a taxpayer to reduce its U.S. income through certain transactions and arrangements with non-U.S. affiliates. One of these rules would discourage a U.S. company from financing its operations with debt from a non-U.S. affiliate beyond a certain point.

Another base erosion provision would require a U.S. corporation to pay tax on 10% (11% if it is a bank) of (x) its “modified” taxable income, less (y) the tax it would otherwise pay without taking into consideration its U.S. federal income tax credits other than the research and development credit. A U.S. corporation is subject to this rule if it pays non-U.S. affiliates for a threshold amount of goods and services, e.g., component parts or administration, and the multinational group has gross receipts of more than $500 million on average over the prior three years (the “International AMT”). Although generally applicable, this rule would require a calculation of adjusted income that would not account for the PTC or ITC, regardless of when the PTCs or ITCs were earned. Thus, a company that is subject to the International AMT will likely be required to pay tax on income that would otherwise be sheltered by the PTC or ITC, including income that may be sheltered under the existing Alternative Minimum Tax rules. There are reports that a coalition of Republican Senators are attempting to exclude the PTC and ITC from the adjusted income calculation for the International AMT, but it is not clear that will be accomplished during the reconciliation process.

What does this mean for the renewable energy industry?

If the bill that ultimately crosses the President’s desk largely mirrors the Senate bill, it is likely that many of the very large tax equity investors will become subject to the International AMT (since many of those investors are banks, they are also likely to become subject to the higher International AMT rate). Some of those investors have indicated that they will attempt to sell their PTC and ITC holdings and will pull back from further investment. While it seems unlikely that the largest investors will completely exit the PTC and ITC market, even a partial withdrawal seems likely to cause significant turbulence in the market. While the provisions applicable to the tax equity investors that are not subject to the International AMT are more of a mixed bag, the reduction in the corporate income tax rate and increase in bonus depreciation may curb their PTC and ITC appetite.

There is a reasonable possibility that the reconciliation bill will diverge from the bills in material ways, particularly if the President’s recent statements considering a 22% corporate income tax rate are taken seriously. In any event, it seems likely that negotiations over the tax bills may convert the Suniva Section 201 proceeding into just one among several concerns for those riding the “solarcoaster” in the months ahead; at the same time, the uncertainty that the Senate and House bills create with respect to the PTC will occupy the attention of the wind industry.

Today’s House vote in Favor of H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

By: Elizabeth C. Crouse

Earlier today, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. As expected, the limitations on the Production Tax Credit and Incentive Tax Credit that we discussed in our post on November 3 remain in the House bill: the House Republicans would dramatically curtail the PTC, leave the ITC in respect of solar energy installations largely intact, and renew the ITC in respect of several “orphan” renewable energy technologies. However, as discussed in our post on November 15, the Senate Republicans would not change the existing PTC or ITC provisions in the Senate tax reform package. (According to recent news reports, the Senate Republicans intend to renew the ITC in respect of the “orphan” technologies in an extenders bill later this year.) The Senate has not yet voted on its separate tax reform proposal and, at this point, it is not clear whether a conference committee bill will include any provisions regarding the PTC or ITC.

ITC Commissioners Recommend Tariffs and Quotas on Imports of Solar Cells and Modules; President May Announce Final Remedy Decision before End of 2017

By: Stacy J. Ettinger, Elias B. Hinckley, and James R. Wrathall

As we previously reported, on September 22, 2017, the U.S. International Trade Commission (“ITC”) found that increased imports of crystalline silicon photovoltaic (“CSPV”) cells and modules have seriously injured (economically harmed) U.S. solar manufacturers. The four ITC Commissioners have now announced their separate recommendations for how to alleviate or “remedy” that economic injury. Remedies, such as tariffs or quotas, normally can be imposed for a maximum of four years.

The President will have the final say on whether to impose a remedy, and if so, the form, amount, and duration of the remedy. There is speculation in Washington that the President’s remedy decision could be announced in December.

The stakes are high. Industry experts believe that tariffs at the levels originally requested by Suniva could massively impede the economic health and growth of U.S. downstream users and consuming industries, more than doubling the costs of some solar projects and putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk. Industry experts believe that imposition of tariffs at the levels recommended by the Commissioners could potentially have less of a draconian impact. Public comments on remedy issues for the President’s consideration may be submitted before November 20, 2017.

As described below, the Commissioners’ recommendations range from 10-35 percent tariffs on cell and module imports to defined quotas on imports of CSPV products. As a result of the ITC’s earlier injury findings, imports from free trade agreement (“FTA”) countries Mexico and Korea would be subject to imposition of remedies while imports from other FTA countries, including Canada, would not.

Chair Rhonda Schmidtlein recommends an in-quota tariff rate of 10 percent and an in-quota volume level of 0.5 gigawatts for imports of cells. Imports of cells that that exceed the in-quota 0.5 gigawatt volume level would be subject to a 30 percent tariff. Commissioner Schmidtlein also recommends a 35 percent tariffs on CSPV modules, to be reduced in each subsequent year.

Vice Chair David Johanson and Commissioner Irving Williamson recommend a 30 percent tariff on CSPV cell imports in excess of 1 gigawatt. In each subsequent year, the tariff rate would decrease and the in-quota amount would increase. For imports of CSPV modules, Commissioners Johanson and Williamson recommend a 30 percent tariff, to be reduced in each subsequent year.

Commissioner Meredith Broadbent recommends a quantitative restriction (quota) on imports of CSPV products into the United States, including cells and modules. The first year import quota would be set at 8.9 gigawatts, to be increased by 1.4 gigawatts in each subsequent year.

Commissioner Broadbent also recommends the President administer these quantitative restrictions through the sale of import licenses at public auction at a minimum price of one cent per watt. The revenue generated by the sale of import licenses would be used to assist domestic CSPV product manufacturers, including for purchase of production equipment, hiring of production workers, and R&D.

The ITC will send its final report to the President, including the Commissioners’ remedy recommendations, by November 13, 2017. The President has up to 60 days – and complete discretion – to determine the form, amount, and duration of the remedy.

The Commissioners’ remedy recommendations, if adopted by the President, would likely result in less impact on final module pricing than Suniva had originally requested. For example, the initial pricing impact of a 30 percent tariff would likely be in the range of 10 to 15 cents per watt on CSPV modules. This amount would likely decline as the price of modules drops and the tariff rate is reduced over time. Additionally, some CSPV manufacturing might shift to free trade agreement countries not included in the injury finding, which could further pull prices lower over time.

Public comments on remedy issues for the President’s consideration are due to the Office of the United States Trade Representative (“USTR”) on November 20, 2017. Rebuttal comments are due November 29, 2017. USTR will hold a public hearing on December 6, 2017.

For more information on the solar proceeding, including information on filing comments on remedy issues, contact Stacy Ettinger, Elias Hinckley, or Jim Wrathall of K&L Gates.

Suniva Injury Finding Announced: Solar Import Remedies Heading to a Political Decision

In response to a petition by bankrupt U.S. solar panel manufacturer Suniva Inc., today the U.S. International Trade Commission (“ITC”) issued a finding that low-cost solar panel imports have caused “serious injury” to the domestic manufacturing sector.

It is widely believed that trade sanctions from this decision could cause price increases on the most commonly used type of solar panels, and therefore significant harm to the U.S. solar industry and corporate energy consumers.  By early November, the ITC will recommend a remedy, which will go to the White House for a final decision within three months.

The ITC’s injury finding generally applies to solar panel imports from all countries.  However, the ITC also is required to separately consider whether imports from countries with which the U.S. has a Free Trade Agreement (“FTA”) account for a substantial share of total imports and are contributing “importantly” to the serious injury.  In this case, the ITC made affirmative injury findings for imports from FTA countries Mexico and Korea, which will be included in the determination of remedies. The ITC made negative findings with respect to the other FTA countries, including Canada, which therefore will not be subject to such remedies.

The stakes are high.  Industry experts have said that by increasing the cost of panels, the tariffs sought by Suniva could have a negative impact of more than $50 billion on the U.S. solar industry.  More than 88,000 jobs in the solar supply chain could be eliminated, and 47 gigawatts of solar installations could be cancelled in the next five years.  Major corporate energy consumers relying on solar to meet sustainability commitments could see costs of installed utility-scale projects more than double.  It is unclear whether raising tariffs, especially to levels requested by Suniva, would significantly boost domestic panel manufacturing or create new jobs.

The ITC remedy recommendations will go to the White House, which has authority to impose whatever remedies President Trump chooses.  There is opposition to tariffs across the political spectrum, with commenters ranging from The Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation on the right to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), environmental groups, and labor unions on the left, all arguing that imposing tariffs would harm U.S. economic interests.  Despite this broad opposition, the solar industry is very concerned that President Trump may view tariffs favorably as appearing to make a strong statement in favor of U.S. manufacturing and against Chinese trade imbalance.

The outcome of the remedy may be heavily influenced by political calculations.  SEIA and a number of industry coalitions will respond to the ITC decision with vigorous political advocacy, making the case to the White House and Congress that tariffs on solar panel imports would be counterproductive.  Another group, the American Solar Jobs Coalition, is working to build a path forward that “will support all aspects of the U.S. solar industry and ensure that the President’s decision will allow the solar industry to continue to support American businesses and drive American prosperity.”  Companies in the solar sector and clean energy consumers should actively monitor the outcome of this matter, and consider strategic responses in the event significant trade sanctions are imposed.

For more information on the Suniva proceeding, contact Elias Hinckley, Stacy Ettinger, or Jim Wrathall of K&L Gates.

Elias B. Hinckley
+1.202.778.9091
elias.hinckley@klgates.com

Stacy J. Ettinger
+1.202.778.9072
stacy.ettinger@klgates.com

James R. Wrathall
+1.202.778.9092
jim.wrathall@klgates.com

Teresa A. Hill Named to National Law Journal’s “Energy & Environmental Trailblazers”

K&L Gates is pleased to congratulate our partner Teresa A. Hill on being named to the National Law Journal’s “Energy & Environmental Trailblazers.” The National Law Journal recognized lawyers across the country that have moved the needle in the energy or environmental space through devising new strategies, pioneering technological advancements, litigating landmark cases, and other innovative initiatives.

Teresa was honored for her work in the cutting edge area of corporate energy sourcing, which helps corporate customers develop and implement sustainability and carbon reduction goals through their energy strategy.

In addition to her work spearheading the K&L Gates Corporate Energy Sourcing Initiative, Teresa focuses her practice in the areas of energy and infrastructure projects and transactions with an emphasis on on wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and hydroelectric power.

Click here to read the National Law Journal feature

New Treasury Guidance Significantly Expands Field of Renewable Energy Projects That May Qualify for the PTC or ITC

On May 5, the U.S. Treasury Department released Notice 2016-31 to address certain changes made to the Production Tax Credit (“PTC”) and Investment Tax Credit (“ITC”) in the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (“PATH”) Act of 2015, Pub. L. No. 114-113, Div. Q.  The Notice generally extends the application of the “beginning of construction” and “continuous construction” requirements set forth in Notices 2013-29, 2013-60, 2014-46, and 2015-25, and also favorably modifies several key factors of both requirements.  In addition, on May 18, the U.S. Treasury Department released a revised version of Notice 2016-31, which states that the provisions of Notice 2016-31 apply to any project for which a taxpayer claims the PTC or, via Code Section 48(a)(5), the ITC, that is placed in service after January 2, 2013.

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Next Steps for Community Solar After the Passage of Oregon’s Landmark Clean Energy Legislation

Oregon’s landmark “Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan,” Senate Bill 1547 (SB 1547), was recently signed into law by Governor Kate Brown. Among other things, the new law increases Oregon’s renewable portfolio standard to 50 percent by 2040 and requires Oregon’s investor-owned utilities to eliminate coal-fired resources from the electricity allocated to Oregon’s ratepayers by 2030.  We will be posting an analysis of the new law shortly, but in this post we wanted to focus on the part of SB 1547 that will establish a community solar program in Oregon.

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