Renewable energy and the Investment Tax Credit: past, present and future.

Although the field of Renewable Energy is considered to be a modern industry, the investment tax credit (ITC) — the Federal tax credit used to foster the investment in renewable energy infrastructure — has more than a 50-year history in the United States.

The Federal ITC was first signed into law as a part of the Revenue Act of 1962; created with the intention of stimulating economic growth in the United States by providing incentives for businesses to purchase or modernize certain assets. Today this underlying objective of the Federal ITC remains the same — although the ITC has changed its focus to stimulating private investment in renewable energy infrastructure.
Since its original enactment, the Federal ITC has gone through several changes.  It has been suspended, extended, and terminated several times, and the size of the tax credit has fluctuated significantly due to tax reform initiatives from different political administrations.

It was the Energy Policy Act of 2005 which made the Federal Investment Tax Credit more or less what it is today. This program, signed into law by President George W. Bush, increased the tax credit from 10% to 30% of eligible costs for solar and fuel-cell projects. The 30% credit was extended in 2006 through the Tax Relief and Healthcare Act, and extended once again in 2008 though the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act: to the year 2016.

In 2016 the Omnibus Appropriations Act extended the ITC once more, keeping the 30% rate until 2019. At that point the credit will reduce to 26% (until 2020), 22% (until 2021) and dropping sharply to 10% after 2023. The Act also changed the “placed-in-service” status to require a commercial construction designation. This allows projects to qualify for the 30%, 26% or 22% credit if construction is commenced prior to 2019, 2020 or 2021, respectively, and the project is placed in service prior to December 31, 2023.

At this writing in the fall of 2018, it certainly appears that any developer with the ability to accelerate a renewable energy project should hasten to do so. The rewards can be great, but the process can be bureaucratic and complex, and I would strongly suggest a development team consult not only with a tax professional such as a CPA but also with a consultant who specializes in the tax credit field.