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Posts Tagged ‘investment tax credit’

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photo: SolarCity

When Wall Street collapsed last year so did  tax equity funds, the primary vehicle to finance renewable energy development.  But as I write in The New York Times today, investors are beginning to jump back into the game.

U.S. Bancorp has agreed to finance $100 million of solar installations in 2009 for California startup SolarCity. Investors are being lured in part by a federal stimulus package provision that lets them take a 30 percent investment tax credit for renewable energy projects as a cash grant:

The credit crunch has walloped the residential solar industry, making it hard for installers like SolarCity to tap investor funds to finance rooftop arrays for their customers.

But in a sign that the recessionary clouds are parting a bit, SolarCity on Tuesday said that U.S. Bancorp has agreed to finance $100 million worth of solar installations in 2009.

That’s double the money the bank committed to provide SolarCity in June when the original deal – but not the financial details – was announced.

SolarCity, based in the Silicon Valley suburb of Foster City, offers customers the option of leasing their rooftop panels and thus avoiding the five-figure cost of buying a solar system.

The company retains ownership of the solar array and thus qualifies for a 30 percent federal tax credit against its cost. Since most startups have no use for such tax credits, they give them to investors in exchange for financing installations.

Still, most such tax equity partnerships have collapsed along with the Wall Street banks that often funded them. In fact, U.S. Bancorp stepped in after Morgan Stanley pulled the plug on a financing arrangement with SolarCity earlier this year.

“For all of this year, tax equity has been the number one constraint in financing for the entire solar industry,” said Lyndon Rive, SolarCity’s chief executive. “In the third quarter of last year there were about 20 active banks and insurance companies making tax equity investments. They all fell off a cliff and now there’s three or four.”

You can read the rest of the story here.

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solana1The credit crunch is taking a toll on the United States’ nascent solar industry, scuttling big renewable energy projects and curtailing expansion plans, solar executives said Wednesday as they proposed the inclusion of green incentives in the Obama economic stimulus plan.

Spanish energy giant Abengoa, for instance, has put on hold plans to build its 280-megawatt Solana solar power plant outside Phoenix to supply electricity to utility Arizona Public Service (PNW) in a $4 billion deal, said Fred Morse, senior advisor to Abengoa Solar.

“We have serious issues getting financing,” said Morse during a conference call held by the Solar Energy Industries Association. Congress in October passed a 30% investment tax credit crucial to the solar industry. But Wall Street’s meltdown has scared off investors that normally would finance large solar projects in exchange for the tax credits.

“The investment tax credit was passed but unfortunately there was no ‘I’ in the ITC,” Morse added. “We have trouble finding tax-equity investors, the financing is gone.”

Suntech America president Roger Efird said that after Congress passed the investment tax credit, the Chinese solar cell maker immediately doubled its sales force in the U.S. That expansion has now hit a wall.

“Plans to double our sales force by the end of 2009 are currently on hold, primarily because business has slowed in fourth quarter because of the credit crunch,” he said. “We had been considering establishing manufacturing in the U.S. The timing of those plans depend on the growth of the market in the U.S. and how long it takes to get through this downturn.”  Suntech’s (STP) stock – like those of rivals SunPower (SPWRA) and First Solar (FSLR) – has been walloped by the market chaos and is down 94% from its 52-week high.

Ron Kenedi of Sharp Solar said the dealers and installers who buy the Japanese solar module maker’s products have had a hard time securing credit to finance their operations.

In response, the solar industry’s trade group on Wednesday proposed that the federal government cut through the credit crunch by adopting tax and investment policies to stimulate the solar sector and create 1 million jobs.

The centerpiece of the plan is a $10 billion program to install 4,000 megawatts of solar energy on federal buildings and at military installations. “The Department of Defense alone could jump start this industry and it could have widespread impact on the use of solar, similar to what it did for the Internet,” said Nancy Bacon, an executive with Michigan thin-film solar cell maker Energy Conversion Devices (ENER).

Bacon noted that the federal government is the world’s largest utility customer, spending $5.6 billion annually on electricity. “This would create 350,000 sustainable jobs,” she said. “The solar industry is ready to deploy these systems immediately.”

The Solar Energy Industries Association also wants Congress to enact a 30% tax refundable tax credit for the purchase of solar manufacturing equipment to encourage solar companies to build their factories in the U.S. That would result in an estimated 315,000 new jobs. Making the current investment tax credit refundable would also help loosen up financing for solar projects, the association said.

Other policies on the SEIA agenda:

  • Establishment of a national Renewable Portfolio Standard that would require states to obtain a minimum of 10% of their electricity from green sources by 2012 and 25% by 2025, with 30% of the total coming from solar.
  • Rapid deployment of new transmission lines to connect cities to remote areas where wind and solar power is typically produced.
  • Expedited approval of solar power plant projects on federal land in the Southwest.
  • Creation of an Office of Renewable Energy in President-elect Obama’s office to coordinate the procurement and permitting of solar power and transmission lines.

“We are working closely with the Obama energy transition team and have been in contact with Congress,” said SEIA president Rhone Resch. “These polices are exactly the kind of shot in the arm our economy needs today.”

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SAN FRANCISCO – Google and General Electric said Wednesday that they will collaborate on developing geothermal power as well as technology to enable plug-in vehicles to return electricity to the grid.

During Google’s (GOOG) annual Zeitgeist conference at its Silicon Valley headquarters, Google CEO Eric Schmidt and GE (GE) chief Jeff Immelt said the two giants also would team up to push for policy changes in Washington to develop smart electricity grids to allow the widespread deployment of renewable energy.

“There’s two fundamental things that have to be done, and which we’re working with Google on,” said Immelt before an audience that included former Vice President Al Gore. “One, there has to be more capacity. The second thing is there has to be a smart grid to allow it to operate more effectively. That’s primarily software. We make the hardware.”

Schmidt quizzed Immelt about the impact of the Wall Street meltdown on green energy. “Will the craziness of last week screw some of this stuff up?” asked Schmidt. “Are we going to get set back for years because of all the shenanigans in the financial industry?”

“People should be concerned but not panicked,” replied Immelt. “The federal government is doing the right thing.”

Gore was not so sanguine, noting that Congress has failed repeatedly to extend crucial investment tax credits for renewable energy. “While Congress is voting on oil drilling and leasing oil shale – which is a move that would be game over for the climate crisis – they’re preparing to filibuster over renewable energy tax credits,” he said.

Google and GE are among scores of Fortune 500 companies that have lobbied Congress to extend the investment tax credit and the production tax credit, which is particularly important to the wind industry. ”

“I’m a lifelong Republican and I believe in free markets but over time we worship false idols,” says Immelt. “Sometimes we think the free market is whatever the price of oil is today. In the end, clean energy is both a technology and a public policy.”

He noted that because the production tax credit allowed the wind industry to scale up, wind-generated electricity now costs about six-to-seven cents a kilowatt hour, down from 15 cents 15 years ago.

“We bought Enron’s wind business for a few million dollars and now it’s worth $7 to 8 billion,” Immelt said. “I’ve made some bad decisions but that wasn’t one of them.”

Google in August invested nearly $11 million in geothermal companies developing so-called enhanced geothermal systems technology to allow the earth’s heat to be tapped nearly anywhere and turned into electricity. On Wednesday, Google and GE said they will work on technology to transform geothermal into a large-scale source of green electricity.

In a statement, the two companies said they will also “explore enabling technologies including software, controls and services that help utilities enhance grid stability and integrate plug-in vehicles and renewable energy into the grid.”

Image: Google

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With billions of dollars of solar and wind power projects and thousands of green-collar jobs hanging in the balance, the U.S. Senate on Wednesday again failed to extend a key investment tax credit for renewable energy.

Republicans blocked the legislation from coming to the floor, marking the eighth attempt to extend the 30 percent tax credit beyond it’s Jan. 1, 2009, expiration date. The extension is backed by all the state governors save Georgia, a coalition of Fortune 500 companies, Wall Street banks, renewable energy startups, and tech giants like Google (GOOG), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and Applied Materials (AMAT).

Utilities like PG&E (PCG) and Edison International (EIX) as well as financiers such as Morgan Stanley (MS) and GE Energy Financial Services (GE), are pushing for an eight-year extension of the investment tax credit to give Big Solar projects enough time to get off the ground and start to achieve economies of scale.

Senate Republicans opposed the legislation, contending it would raise taxes. A list of senators and their votes on the legislation can be found here.

Without the 30 percent tax credit, the viability of several large solar power plant projects remains in doubt. Spanish solar company Abengoa Solar has said it probably will pull out of plans to build a 280-megawatt power plant in Arizona if Congress doesn’t renew the tax credit. Green Wombat happened to have breakfast this morning with a PG&E executive who said that the large solar projects that California utilities are counting on to meet renewable energy mandates would have a hard time securing financing absent the investment tax credit.

First Solar (FSLR) CEO Michael Ahearn said on an earnings call Wednesday afternoon that if the investment tax credit is not extended the thin-film solar module maker would focus its efforts on the European market. “We don’t have massive volumes of solar planned for the U.S. in the short term,” said Ahearn.

Said Rhone Resch, president of the trade group Solar Energy Industries Association, in a statement: “Already companies are putting projects on hold and preparing to send thousands of jobs overseas – real jobs that would otherwise be filled by American workers.”

While Senators Barack Obama and John McCain have have expressed support for increasing the U.S.’s investment in green energy, neither presidential candidate showed up to vote Wednesday on the extension of the tax credit.

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