Posts tagged “PTC”
If It’s December It Must Be PTC Time, Again
With the end of the year fast approaching, the US wind power industry faces yet another scheduled expiration of federal tax credits for new wind turbines. The wind Production Tax Credit, or PTC, was due to expire at the end of 2012 but was extended for an additional year as part of last December’s “fiscal cliff” deal. There are no signs yet of a similar reprieve this year.
With the PTC and other energy-related “tax expenditures” subject to Congressional negotiations on tax reform, this might truly be its last hurrah in its current form. It is high time for this overly generous subsidy to be “sunsetted”, and if it’s replaced with a smarter policy emphasizing innovation, the outcome could be beneficial for taxpayers, the environment, and even the US wind energy industry.
Too Big To Last
In its 20-year history, minus a few year-long expirations in the past, the PTC has promoted tremendous growth in the US wind industry, from under 2,000 MW of installed wind capacity in 1992 to over 60,000 MW as of today. For most of its tenure, the PTC did exactly what it was intended to do: reward developers for generating increasing amounts of renewable electricity for the grid at a rate tied to inflation.
The following article was written by S. Michael Holly, the Chairman of Sorgo Fuels & Chemicals, Inc. Sorgo has developed technology for the production of ethanol, electricity and protein from sweet sorghum. Mike was formerly an alternative energy engineer and business analyst with the Minnesota Department of Energy and Economic Development. He holds masters degrees in chemical engineering and business administration from the University of Minnesota.
Many U.S. special interests are misrepresenting wind power costs, including the wind industry, environmental groups, utility monopolies, independent system operators, educational and research institutions, and even federal and state governments. On September 24, Bill Ritter, the current director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University and former Governor of Colorado, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “Long-term contracts for wind energy are being signed by utilities in several states in the range of 3 cents per kWh over 20 years” (1). Xcel Energy, the nation’s leading wind-generating electric utility, declares “wind power is simply the cheapest resource” (2).
Supporters of coal have called the planned new rules from the EPA on CO2 emissions from coal-fired power generation a war on coal and have pledged to fight the rule-making process. It is true that there will almost certainly not be a new coal-fired electric generating station built in the U.S. for at least the next several years, but the hiatus won’t be caused by any specific rule. The real danger to the coal industry is uncertainty.
Investing in the electric business is about long stable returns. Electricity assets last a long time, are expensive to install, and are typically expected to provide long-term stable, if modest, returns. Since returns are spread over a long period and are stable, with limited upside (10x returns on energy infrastructure don’t exist) investors and lenders require a quantifiable and manageable amount of risk. Uncertainty in any form makes the quantification and valuation of risk in an electric generation investment much more difficult (or impossible) and severely limits investor interest.
An excellent illustration of the impact of uncertainty on electric generation investment is a recent history of the wind industry. Despite a pattern of consistent, and even retroactive extensions, the uncertainty created by the political fight over extending the Production Tax Credit for wind power has caused nearly complete cessation of new wind facilities being brought on line each time the credit wasn’t extended well in advance of expiration.
The impact of the PTC on the economic case for a wind project has been substantial and was (and still is for some projects) the difference between a profitable and an unprofitable project, so the uncertainty regarding the availability of the credit was a threshold requirement for an investor. An investor simply could not have certainty that it could earn the necessary return (or in most cases any return) without realizing value from the credit, so no investments were made. The result of this uncertainty in 1999, 2001 and 2003 is stark, as investment dropped precipitously from year to year, even though any project would have qualified for the credit because of retroactivity of the extensions.
The IRS issued an important piece of guidance related to clean energy finance this week. It is the annual inflation adjustment for the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and it increased the credit from 2.2 to 2.3 cents per kWh for full qualifying energy property like wind and geothermal, while the partial credit for sources like open-loop biomass and incremental hydro remained at 1.1 cents per kWh (also adjusted were the inflation factors for Indian and refined coal).
More important is what is still missing – despite widespread expectation for a first quarter release, the long awaited rules on how to determine the start of construction for purposes of determining what projects will be PTC eligible at the end of 2013 still have not been issued.
When the PTC was extended as part of the fiscal cliff deal during the holidays there was an important change in the method for determining whether a project would qualify for the credit. Historically, the qualification of property was based on the date the property was placed in service (and it’s worth noting that this rule is actually somewhat vague and the application sometimes very nuanced). Now, qualification is based on when construction for the facility begins. As long as construction starts before year-end, property is eligible for the credit.