Fiscal Cliff Bill Extends Home Energy Efficiency Tax Credits for Businesses and Homeowners

     On January 1, 2013, the U.S. Congress passed last minute legislation known as the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 to avoid automatic increases in income taxes for millions of Americans, as well as draconian cuts to the budget of the federal government, that many feared would plunge the nation’s economy back into recession. 

        Also included in this eleventh-hour legislative compromise were reinstatements of two business and personal tax credits applicable to energy efficient residences and appliances that had expired on December 31, 2011. The Act extended the tax credits through December 31, 2013, and made them retroactive to December 31, 2011, meaning that the credits are now available for both 2012 and 2013 projects


26 U.S.C. §45L Business Tax Credit for New and Renovated Energy Efficient Residences


            The Act reinstated and extended the 26 U.S.C. §45L business tax credit of up to $2000 for contractors or developers that construct or significantly renovate “dwelling units” (apartments, condos or single-family homes) that meet certain energy efficiency standards.


Importantly, the credit is calculated based on the “dwelling unit,” not the building. IRS guidance on the credit defines “dwelling unit” as “a single unit providing complete independent living facilities for one or more persons, including permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation, within a building that is not more than three stories above grade in height.” Therefore, contractors and developers of low-rise multi-family properties can claim a credit for each individual unit, and attached townhomes each qualify for an independent credit.


            In addition, the credit had previously applied only to residences acquired before December 31, 2011. The credit is now available for homes built and acquired from December 31, 2011 through December 31, 2013, which includes those built and acquired either in 2012 or 2013.


            In addition to extending the credit, the Act changed the baseline of energy efficiency required to qualify. Previously, §45L required a 50% reduction in energy usage as compared to the 2003 edition of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). The Act amended the baseline energy standard to reference the 2006 edition. 


            The 2006 edition of the IECC contains several structural changes to make the code easier to apply, and adjusted some of the technical requirements. However, as determined by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the revisions did not change significantly the level of energy efficiency from the 2003 edition.  Therefore, although it is important to be aware of the technical changes, properties that would have qualified for the prior version of the §45L credit will likely meet the energy efficiency requirements of the new standard.  This will disappoint many critics of the §45L tax credit, who have argued that it is not stringent enough from an energy efficiency perspective.


            The Act also freezes the credit to the standard “in effect on January 1, 2006,” the 2006 edition of the IECC. Updating the baseline energy efficiency standard to more current editions of the IECC, which are up to 30% more energy efficient than the 2006 edition, will require further legislative amendment, and is therefore unlikely to occur in the near future.


26 U.S.C. §25C Individual Tax Credit for Energy Efficient Residential Improvements and Appliances


            The Act also reinstated the 26 U.S.C. §25C individual tax credit of 10% (up to $500) of the cost of certain energy efficient existing property improvements, like insulation, windows and door, and energy efficient heating, cooling and water heating appliances. 


            As with the §45L credit, the §25C credit, the Act extended the availability of the credit to improvements placed in service between December 31, 2011 and December 31, 2013, meaning that improvements placed in service in either 2012 and 2013 are now eligible.

The Renewable Energy Tax Code Wilderness--Production, Investment and Grants OH MY!

I will make an admission.  I took tax in law school, and, it was the academic equivalent of having my left arm sawed off without anaesthesia.  Why? Mostly because things which should have been clear seemed hopelessly obscure.  Now I deal with advising clients on incentives available for sustainable projects, and the tax code and I have had to battle to a stalemate.  At least, I battle, and the tax code just sits there impentarably.

One of the features which is particularly difficicult is the relationship between 26 USC 45, which deals with tax credits for producing renewable energy (the "production tax credit" or PTC), 26 USC 48 which deals with tax credits for investing in renewable energy equipement (the "investment tax credit" or ITC) and the Renewable Energy Grant created by the ARRA.  All three of these relate to businesses which have installed renewable energy technologies, like solar, wind and geothermal.  It should be clear and easy to understand which ones apply to your business and what the incentive will be.  As with all things related to the tax code, however, it is not.

I am going to attempt to clear up some of the obscurity, but, as with all information on this blog, it is for informational purposes only, not legal advice; and you should consult your legal and financial advisor to provide you with proper advice for your business.

Title Applies to Amount of Incentive
Production Tax Credit
  •  Wind
  • Biomass
  • Geothermal
  • Solar
  • Small Irrigation
  • Municipal solid waste
  • Hydropower
  • Marine and Hydrokinetic
 1.5 cents per kW of power generated at a qualified facility for the 10 years beginning on the date the facility was placed in service AND sold to an unrelated person during the taxable year
Investment Tax Credit
  •  Solar for heating, cooling, hot water, illumination or solar process heat
  • Fuel cell
  • Microturbine
  • Geothermal
  • Combined heat and power (cogeneration)
  • Small wind
  • Ground water thermal
 30% of the cost of the "energy property" for solar and small wind, 10% for geothermal and other renewable sources
Renewable Energy Grant  Applicable property under Section 45 or 48  10% or 30% of the basis of the property, depending on the type of property placed in service during 2009 or 2010 or after 2010 if construction began on the property during 2009 or 2010 and the property is placed in service by a certain date known as the credit termination date

The incentives are mutually exclusive--The PTC and the ITC cannot both be taken, and they can be swapped for the REG, but you cannot take the PTC/ITC and the REG.

In plain english, it appears that the PTC is designed for renewable energy sources where the power is designed to be sold to others as a Renewable Energy Credit, and the ITC is designed for renewable energy sources where the power is used on-site.  The Renewable Energy Grant allows companies which have invested in either type of renewable energy capacity to receive cash, as opposed to a tax credit, which is helpful particularly if the company has no tax liability or a tax loss. 

 There are some resources available to help you sort through this morass.  The DSIRE database has quick summaries of available state and federal incentives.  The Utah Clean Energy site has a nice summary of the renewable energy features of the ARRA.   The DOE site has a useful summary of renewable energy incentives for businesses as well.