On July 27, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued an opinion reversing the decision of the Court of Federal Claims in Alta Wind I Owner-Lessor C, et al. v. U.S. The Federal Circuit held that goodwill and going concern value could attach to the assets of wind facilities that had not yet been placed in service and therefore that the Code Section 1060 residual method of allocating purchase price applied to the acquisition of the wind facilities. The Federal Circuit’s holding that goodwill and going concern value can attach to a wind facility, and the fact that it vacated the decision of the Court of Federal Claims (which included other holdings favorable to industry participants) could have significant implications for renewable projects.

At issue in Alta Wind was the appropriate amount of cash grants pursuant to Section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reimbursement Act of 2009 for several wind facilities. The Alta Wind plaintiffs purchased wind farms from a developer, placed them in service, and then applied to the Treasury Department for $703 million in Section 1603 grants. The Treasury Department awarded Section 1603 grants of approximately $495 million based on a determination that a portion of the purchase price for the wind facilities should be allocated to intangibles, potentially including going concern value and goodwill, using the residual method under Section 1060 of the Code.

As explained in our prior analysis, the Court of Federal Claims had focused on whether the wind farm acquisitions qualified as “applicable asset acquisitions” under Code section 1060 because of the presence of goodwill or going concern value. The court found as a matter of fact that neither goodwill nor going concern value could exist for a non-operational plant and therefore held that Section 1060 of the Code did not apply. With respect to goodwill, the court ruled that prior to beginning operations, no “expectation of continued patronage” could possibly exist under the terms of the PPAs, which is the sine qua non of a finding of the existence of goodwill. Regarding going concern value, the court cited United States v. Cornish, 348 F.2d 175 (9th Cir. 1965) for the proposition that going concern value, as distinguished from goodwill, is the “special value inherent in a functioning plant continuing to do business and to earn money with its staff and personnel.” Since the wind farms at issue were not functional at the time of acquisition, the court found that no separate intangible going concern value had yet been created. The Court of Federal Claims also held that location value, turnkey value, and any value attributable to above-market PPAs were inherent in the tangible property rather than separate intangibles.

The Federal Circuit disagreed with the Court of Federal Claims after applying a strict reading of the regulations under Section 1060 of the Code, which state that a group of assets constitute a trade or business requiring the use of the residual method if the “character” of the group of assets transferred is such that goodwill or going concern value could attach under any circumstances. Reg. 1.1060-1(b)(2)(i)(B) (emphasis supplied). According to the Federal Circuit, “[t]here is no need to show that a transaction had actual, accrued goodwill or going concern value at the time of the transaction” for the residual method to apply.

The Federal Circuit’s decision appears to leave open the debate as to whether a plant-specific, non-transferable power purchase agreement is an intangible asset separate and distinct from its underlying renewable energy facility. In 2012 the IRS issued PLR 201214007, in which it ruled that a facility-specific PPA was not separate from the underlying facility, citing a similar rule under Code section 168(c) for commercial real estate. The IRS subsequently revoked that ruling in PLR 201249013. The Federal Circuit addressed this issue in its analysis concerning one of the factors that could indicate the presence of goodwill and going concern value—viz., the presence of intangibles associated with the tangible property. Without much analysis, the court concludes that “the PPAs, or at least some portion thereof, may be characterized as customer-based intangibles” under Section 197 of the Code and accordingly appears to conclude that PPAs, or portions of the PPAs, could be separate intangibles. However, the court completely failed to address the substantive legal arguments for and against a holding that a facility-specific PPA is a separate and distinct asset from the underlying facility. If the Federal Circuit’s opinion can be confined to the initial determination of whether the residual method applies to a non-operational plant with a PPA, then the substantive issue of whether, as a matter of law, any value should be associated with an in-the-money PPA, or whether that value is inextricably intertwined with the value of the facility’s tangible asset, arguably remains to be decided another day.

The Federal Circuit opinion is a significant setback for industry participants in their attempts to assert that virtually all the basis in wind and solar projects is attributable to the tangible property, just as the trial court opinion was a significant setback for the government. However, it remains possible that the Court of Federal Claims on remand could conclude that there is in fact no goodwill or going concern value associated with the wind facilities, and we expect industry participants to take a similar position in the meantime.

Recently New Jersey and California took monumental steps to remain nationwide leaders in clean energy. New Jersey increased its Renewable Energy Standard to make it one of the most aggressive standards in the nation while at the same time supporting its nuclear industry and seeking to diversify its energy sources.  California implemented a first of its kind rule, requiring all newly built residences to have solar energy. Both of the states continue their track record of being leaders in clean energy.

New Jersey

On May 23, 2018, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law Assembly Bill 3723 (the “Renewable Energy Law”).  This law reaffirms New Jersey’s commitment to being a leader in clean energy.  The Renewable Energy Law increases New Jersey’s renewable portfolio standard from 20.38% by 2021 to 50% by 2030 aligning with the standards in California and New York (and only surpassed by the 75% standard in Vermont and the 100% standard in Hawaii).  Further, the Renewable Energy Law provides for a wind down of the New Jersey Solar Renewable Energy Credit program (“SREC Program”) by 2021 and requires the Board of Public Utilities to study how best to replace the SREC Program.  Additionally, the Renewable Energy Law reduces the amount of energy required to come from solar technologies from 5.1% at the solar carve out’s peak in 2023 down to 1.1% by 2033.

In addition to the changes to the renewable portfolio standard, the Renewable Energy Law seeks to further diversify the state’s energy portfolio. To accomplish this, the Renewable Energy Law targets offshore wind and storage capacity as areas of growth over the next decade by increasing the state’s offshore wind requirement from 1,100 megawatts to 3,500 megawatts and setting, for the first time, an energy storage goal of 2,000 megawatts by 2030. The renewed commitment to offshore wind can already be seen in the Fisherman’s Energy wind project, which is a 24-megawatt project off the coast of Atlantic City that has been stalled for years, but New Jersey Assembly Bill 2485 is currently working its way through the legislative process, which would allow construction to begin on the project.  Finally, the Renewable Energy Law allows for additional avenues for individuals and communities to access renewable resources by creating a community solar program and doubling the state’s net metering cap.

In conjunction with the Renewable Energy Law, Governor Murphy also signed into law Senate Bill 2313 (the “Nuclear Law”) which provides $300 million in subsidies to New Jersey’s nuclear power industry. The Nuclear Law was passed and signed, in part, due to a report from Public Service Electric & Gas (“PSEG”) warning that without receiving additional government subsidies, PSEG would have to close both the Salem nuclear power plant and the Hope Creek nuclear power plant, which combined provide approximately 36% of New Jersey’s energy. In supporting New Jersey’s nuclear industry and reaffirming its commitment to renewable energy, New Jersey has recommitted to being a nationwide leader in clean energy.

California

Not to be outdone by New Jersey, the California Energy Commission (“CEC”) adopted its tri-annual new building standards (the “Standards”) on May 9, 2018.  The Standards which will take effect on January 1, 2020, require all newly built residences to include solar systems (the “Solar Standards”).  Additionally, the Standards update the required thermal envelope standards (i.e. the standards that govern the roof and walls of a building), ventilation requirements and nonresidential lighting requirements.  The CEC anticipates that the greenhouse gas emission reductions attributable to the Standards will be equivalent to taking 115,000 fossil fuel cars off the road. Additionally, the CEC estimates that the Standards will cost the average homeowner an additional $40 per month on a typical 30-year mortgage, but will save families on average $80 per month on electric bills.

While the CEC trumpets the Standards, there are concerns that the added capacity will exacerbate the state’s “duck curve” – a reference to the steep drop in net load during midday hours, followed by a sharp ramp-up at dusk as solar generation fades and electricity consumption spikes.  California ISO predicted (prior to the Solar Standards passing) that in 2020 an approximately 13,000-megawatt daily ramp-up will be required to offset the lost energy from solar panels as the sun sets. With the Standards, the CEC included a compliance credit for energy storage which can be used to offset the amount of solar PV required by up to 25%.  It appears this storage option is intended to help mitigate the steep ramp-up otherwise required at the end of each day.

Previously several states and cities have thought about and even implemented solar requirements for newly constructed buildings.  The cities of Sebastopol, Santa Monica and San Francisco in California, as well as South Miami in Florida, have all required solar systems on newly built homes.  Washington D.C. and states such as New Jersey and Massachusetts have considered legislation requiring buildings to be solar-ready, but have not taken the step of mandating solar on buildings.  However, California is taking a historic first in requiring newly built residences to include solar systems.

The Standards require all new residences (which includes major renovations on buildings under three stories) to include a solar-power system of a minimum of 2 to 3 kilowatts, depending on the size of the structure.  Such solar systems can be provided either on each home individually or, if a home cannot support solar, through a larger community solar garden that serves multiple residences.

So far this year, New Jersey pulled its renewable energy standard in line with other clean energy leading states while seeking to expand wind and solar technologies and California created a first of its kind law, requiring solar on all residences starting in 2020.  What city or state will pass the next law to become a leader in clean energy?

 

 

 

 

On April 19th, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the “Protecting Solar Jobs Act” (H.R. 5571) in the House Committee on Ways and Means.  The proposed bill is in response to President Trump’s imposition of a 30% tariff on imported crystalline-silicon solar cells and modules – his first major trade action of 2018.  The bipartisan group was made up of Representatives from Nevada, California and South Carolina with the bill being filed by Representative Jacky Rosen of Nevada.

In introducing the bill, Representative Rosen defended the move by stating that the “[s]olar energy’s success throughout Nevada has led to new jobs, cheaper power bills, and the growth of a new industry that is diversifying [the] state’s economy…[The] Administration directly threatened the stability and financial well-being of [Nevada’s] local solar industry when the President decided to impose a 30 percent tariff on imported panels….[The] new bill will reverse this damaging decision.”  Another supporter of the bill, Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, noted that “[s]olar power is one of the cheapest and fastest-growing renewable energy sources, and if we are really focused on becoming energy independent, now is no time to slow its growth. … [O]ver 7,000 South Carolinians who work in the solar industry could lose their jobs because of these tariffs.  This bill is about sustaining solar as a renewable and key energy source toward jobs, clean energy, and energy independence.”

The House Committee on Ways and Means will now have to decide if the Protecting American Solar Jobs Act will be released to the floor for a vote.  If the bill passes a vote by a simple majority, then the bill will move on to the Senate and then to the President for approval.  If the President vetos the bill, it will then return to the Senate and Congress where it must pass by a two-thirds majority to override the President’s veto.

Originally posted on Troutman Sanders’ Washington Energy Report 

On April 2, 2018, FERC denied a complaint alleging that the interconnection process under Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc.’s (“MISO”) tariff was unjust and unreasonable because certain wind generators were experiencing delays in the process, such that those customers would not receive a Generator Interconnection Agreement (“GIA”) in time to receive Federal Production Tax Credit (“PTC”) benefits.  In doing so, FERC found that there was no evidence that MISO was not making reasonable efforts to meet interconnection deadlines, as required by its tariff.  FERC added that prior precedent does not require MISO to ensure wind generators receive their GIA in time to receive full PTC benefits. Continue Reading FERC Holds that MISO Interconnection Process Need Not Ensure that Interconnection Customers Receive PTC Benefits

Originally posted on Troutman Sanders’ Washington Energy Report

On March 9, 2018, a divided FERC approved the Competitive Auctions with Sponsored Policy Resources (“CASPR”) proposal submitted by the ISO New England Inc. (“ISO-NE”). Developed through an extensive stakeholder process that began in 2016, CASPR was promoted by ISO-NE as a mechanism to integrate out-of-market state resource policies that might otherwise suppress capacity market prices in ISO-NE’s capacity market. A divided FERC approved the proposal as a just and reasonable accommodation of state policies, with Commissioner Powelson dissenting, arguing that the proposal dilutes market signals and “threatens the viability” of ISO-NE’s capacity market. Commissioners LaFleur and Glick concurred with the outcome, but criticized the order’s guidance on adapting markets to state energy policies, and reliance on minimum offer pricing rules (“MOPRs”) as the “standard solution” to achieve that end. Continue Reading A Divided FERC Approves ISO-NE’s Capacity Market Changes to Accommodate State Subsidized Resources

Originally posted on Troutman Sanders’ Washington Energy Report

On March 13 and March 15, 2018, FERC took actions to address tax law changes resulting from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 for electricity, natural gas, and oil companies.  In addition, on March 15, 2018, in response to a federal court remand, FERC stated that master limited partnership (“MLP”) interstate natural gas and oil pipelines will no longer be allowed to receive an income tax allowance in cost of service rates.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, among other things, lowered the federal corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, effective January 1, 2018.  FERC addressed this tax rate change by issuing separate orders for electricity, natural gas, and oil companies.  First, the Commission issued two show-cause orders, pursuant to section 206 of the Federal Power Act, for 48 electricity companies whose current transmission tariffs include fixed rates that may have been based on the outdated tax rate.  Both orders direct the electric companies to propose tariff revisions to adjust their transmission rates in accordance with the new tax rate or otherwise, show why they should not be required to do so. Continue Reading FERC Addresses Impact of Tax Cuts on Rates for Energy Companies and Eliminates Income Tax Allowance for Master Limited Partnerships

Originally posted on Troutman Sanders’ Washington Energy Report

On March 8, 2018, President Donald Trump signed an order that enacts tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from all overseas countries, while exempting Canada and Mexico from such tariffs for now.  The proclamations signed by the President will institute a tariff of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum imports.  The tariffs are expected to become effective March 23, 2018.

The Trump administration’s efforts to levy tariffs on steel and aluminum imports came after a nine month investigation under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, led by the Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross (see March 5, 2018 edition of the WER).  The investigations were initiated in April 2017 and designed to determine whether such imports “threaten or impair the national security.”  When the Section 232 reports were finalized on March 1, 2018, the Commerce Department determined that import competition harms the domestic production of aluminum and steel, and tariffs would strengthen the economic footing of steel and aluminum corporations. Continue Reading Trump Orders Steel and Aluminum Tariffs

An ambitious bill introduced in the Massachusetts’ Senate proposes to accelerate expansion to the state’s renewable energy sector. Along with implementing a market-based system to reduce emissions, the bill also aims to increase the required growth rate of the state’s renewable portfolio from 1% to 3% per year. Specific goals and proposals for solar, wind and energy storage are included in the bill. Continue Reading Massachusetts Bill Aims to Accelerate Renewable Energy Transition

Originally posted on Troutman Sanders’ Washington Energy Report

On February 15, 2018, FERC issued a notice that staff will hold a technical conference on April 10-11, 2018 to discuss the participation of distributed energy resources (“DER”) in markets operated by Regional Transmission Organizations and Independent System Operators.  As FERC stated in the notice, the two-day conference will host several panels on two broad DER-related agendas: first, to continue considering the DER-related reforms initially proposed in the rulemaking culminating in the concurrently-issued Order No. 841 on electric storage participation in organized markets; and second, to broadly explore issues related to the potential effects of DERs on the bulk power system. Continue Reading FERC Establishes Technical Conference on Participation of Distributed Energy Resources in Organized Markets

In response to concerns regarding the changing nature of the nation’s energy supply portfolio and the emergence of promising energy storage technologies, the Commission in recent years issued several notices of inquiry, notice of proposed rulemaking, and policy statements regarding various energy storage and ancillary service supply issues. Additionally, the Commission considered but ultimately declined to pursue the Department of Energy-initiated rulemaking on grid resiliency and reliability. On February 15, 2018, however, the Commission took concrete action by issuing a pair of Final Rules, addressing (i) storage participation in regional markets; and (ii) the provision of primary frequency response, a critical grid support service. Continue Reading FERC Issues Final Rules on Electric Storage Participation in RTOs/ISOs and Primary Frequency Response for New Generators