Guide to the Federal Investment Tax Credit for Commercial Solar Photovoltaics -

Guide to the Federal Investment Tax Credit for Commercial Solar Photovoltaics -
Photo credit Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Guide to the Federal
Investment Tax Credit
for Commercial
Solar Photovoltaics
Disclaimer: This guide provides
an overview of the federal investment
tax credit for those interested in
commercial solar photovoltaics, or PV.         energy are also eligible for the ITC but     The eligible ITC percentage scales down
It does not constitute professional            are beyond the scope of this guidance.)      over time as follows:
tax advice or other professional
                                             • To be eligible for the 30% ITC, a solar      • 30% tax credit for projects
financial guidance. And it should              PV system must have commenced                  commencing construction between
not be used as the only source of              construction on or before December             January 1, 2006, and December 31,
information when making purchasing             31, 2019. The tax credit will decrease         2019, but placed in service before 2024
decisions, investment decisions, or            to 26% for systems commencing
                                               construction in 2020, 22% for systems        • 26% tax credit for projects
tax decisions, or when executing other                                                        commencing construction between
                                               commencing construction in 2021,
binding agreements.                            and 10% for systems commencing                 January 1, 2020, and December 31,
                                               construction in 2022 or thereafter.            2020, but placed in service before 2024
Overview                                       Any PV system placed in service after
                                                                                            • 22% tax credit for projects
• The solar investment tax credit (ITC)        2023, regardless of when it commenced
                                                                                              commencing construction between
  is a tax credit that can be claimed on       construction, can receive a maximum
                                                                                              January 1, 2021, and December 31,
  federal corporate income taxes for 30%       tax credit of 10%.2
                                                                                              2021, but placed in service before 2024
  of the cost of a solar photovoltaic (PV)
  system that is placed in service during    • Typically, a solar PV system that is
                                                                                            • 10% tax credit for projects
  the tax year.1 (Other types of renewable     eligible for the ITC can also use an
                                                                                              commencing construction after
                                               accelerated depreciation corporate
                                                                                              December 31, 2021, or placed in service
                                                                                              after December 31, 2023.5
   The U.S. Department of Energy
   Solar Energy Technologies                 Eligible Projects                              A solar project is considered to have
                                             To be eligible for the business ITC,           commenced construction if:
   Office supports early-stage
                                             the solar PV system must be:
   research and development                                                                 • At least 5% of final qualifying project
   to improve the affordability,             • Used by a business subject to U.S. federal     costs are incurred. Expenses have to
   reliability, and performance of             income taxes (i.e., it cannot be used by a     be “integral” to generating electricity,
                                               tax-exempt entity like a charity)              and equipment and services have to
   solar technologies on the grid.
                                                                                              be delivered (or delivered within 3.5
   The office invests in innovative          • Located in the United States or U.S.           months after payment).
   research efforts that securely              territories (though can only be used
   integrate more solar energy into            against federal income tax obligations)3     • Or, “physical work of significant
                                                                                              nature” is commenced on the project
   the grid, enhance the use and             • Systems must use new and limited               site or on project equipment at the
   storage of solar energy, and                previously used equipment4                     factory. Physical work has to be
   lower solar electricity costs.                                                             “integral” to the project. Preliminary
                                             • Not used to generate energy for heating        activities on site (e.g., clearing the site
                                               a swimming pool.

Guide to the Federal Investment Tax Credit for Commercial Solar Photovoltaics -
SOLAR ENERGY TECHNOLOGIES OFFICE                                  2

  or building a fence or an access road)     basis, reducing the amount of the ITC          an expense, having a larger amount to
  do not count as “integral.” The project    claimed; however, the rebate is not            depreciate during the tax year results in a
  does not require proof of continuous       considered taxable income. For example,        smaller overall tax liability. Note that while
  work if the system is placed in service    if the tax basis is $1,000,000 for a PV        the ITC is a tax credit—a dollar-for-dollar
  within four years.6                        system installed at an apartment complex       reduction in taxes owed—depreciation
                                             and the utility gave a one-time rebate of      is a deduction, meaning it only reduces a
Eligible Expenses                            $100,000, and the project commenced            business’s taxes by the depreciation amount
The ITC is calculated by multiplying         construction before December 31,               multiplied by the business’s tax rate (see
the applicable tax credit percentage         2019 and was placed in service before          below for an example).
(10%–30%) by the “tax basis,” which is       December 31, 2023, the ITC would be
                                             calculated as follows:                         When the commercial ITC11 is claimed,
the amount invested in eligible property.                                                   accelerated depreciation rules allow the
Eligible property includes the following:    0.3 * ($1,000,000 - $100,000) = $270,000
                                                                                            full tax basis minus half the ITC to be
• Solar PV panels, inverters, racking,                                                      depreciated over a five-year MACRS
                                             Other Incentives                               depreciation schedule using a half-
  balance-of-system equipment, and sales
  and use taxes on the equipment             The following are some examples of             year convention12 (where any unused
                                             incentives and policies associated with        depreciation can be carried forward
• Installation costs and indirect costs      a solar PV system that typically do not        indefinitely)13. Under the rules of this
                                             reduce the tax basis related to the ITC (but   depreciation schedule, taxpayers are
• Step-up transformers, circuit breakers,    some may be considered taxable income):        allowed to deduct a larger portion of this
  and surge arrestors                                                                       amount in earlier years, giving them the
                                             • Revenue from the sale of renewable           benefit of a greater immediate reduction
• Energy storage devices (if charged by        energy credits or other environmental        in federal tax liability.
  a renewable energy system more than          attributes associated with the electricity
  75% of the time)7                            generated by the solar PV system10           Bonus Depreciation
                                             • Payments for a state performance-            A business with a solar PV system placed
Other Incentives and the ITC
                                               based incentive                              in service between January 1, 2008, and
For current information on incentives,                                                      September 8, 2010, or between January 1,
including incentive-specific contact         • State and local income tax credits           2012, and December 31, 2017, can elect to
information, see the Database of State                                                      claim a 50% depreciation bonus. Systems
Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency     • State and local property tax exemptions      placed in service between September
(DSIRE) at                   on the equipment                             9, 2010 and December 31, 2011 or
                                             • Taxable state or nonprofit grants            between January 1, 2018 and December
Electric Utility and State                                                                  31, 2022, can elect to claim a 100%
Government Rebates                           • Loan guarantees                              bonus depreciation. Starting in 2023, the
Under most circumstances, solar PV                                                          percentage of capital equipment that can
system rebates provided by a utility or      • Tax-exempt and subsidized energy             be expensed immediately drops 20% per
state government are considered taxable        financing (in 2009 or after)                 year (e.g., 80% in 2023 and 60% in 2024)
income and do not affect the tax basis                                                      until the provision drops to 0% in 2027.14
                                             • Depreciation deductions (see below).
when calculating the ITC. For example,
if the tax basis is $1,000,000 for a PV                                                     Example of a Calculation
system installed at a retail business        Accelerated Depreciation and
                                                                                            A generic example can help illustrate
that commenced construction before           the Depreciation Bonus                         how each incentive could be calculated
December 31, 2019 and was placed in
                                             Accelerated Depreciation                       and applied at a business. Consider a
service before December 31, 2023, and
                                             A taxpayer who claims the commercial           business that commenced construction of
the state government gives a one-time
                                             ITC for a solar PV system placed in            a $1,000,000 solar PV system in 2021,
rebate of $100,000, the ITC
                                             service can typically also take advantage      placed it in service in 2023, and uses the
would be calculated as follows:
                                             of accelerated depreciation (Modified          calendar year as its tax year. What is the
0.3 * $1,000,000 = $300,0008                                                                net effect of claiming the ITC, bonus
                                             Accelerated Cost-Recovery System, or
                                             MACRS) to reduce the overall cost of a         depreciation, and accelerated depreciation
One exception is if the rebate is provided                                                  on its 2023 tax liability?
                                             PV installation. To calculate the income
by a utility to a customer for purchasing
                                             on which federal corporate taxes are
or installing any “energy conservation                                                      ITC Calculation
                                             owed, a business takes the difference
measure,” including solar PV, at a
                                             between its revenues and expenses, plus        As indicated above for a solar PV
residence.9 When this is the case, the
                                             or minus any adjustments to income.            property that commenced construction
utility rebate is subtracted from the tax
                                             Because depreciation is considered             in 2021 and was eligible for a 22% ITC,

when the tax basis is $1,000,000, the 22%    Unused Tax Credits                                benefits) for an agreed- upon number
ITC reduces tax liability by $220,000.                                                         of years at a set price. This type of TPO
                                             Carryback and Carryforward Rules                  arrangement is called a power purchase
Bonus Depreciation Calculation               Unused tax credits related to the                 agreement (PPA). As of June 29, 2019,
Because the business is claiming the ITC,    commercial ITC may be carried back                at least 28 states and Washington, D.C.
its depreciable basis for the system after   1 year and forward 20 years. After 20             authorize this type of TPO, 7 states
applying the ITC is 89% (100% - 22%/2)       years, one- half of any unused credit can         prohibit them, and their legal status is
of the tax basis:                            be deducted, with the remaining amount            unclear in the rest.16 Additionally, the
                                             expiring.                                         ITC cannot be claimed if a tax-exempt
0.89 * $1,000,000 = $890,000
                                                                                               entity simply leases the solar equipment,
                                             Tax Equity Financing                              which is another common type of TPO
To calculate the bonus depreciation for
                                             When a business developing a solar                arrangement used in the residential and
a solar PV property placed in service
                                             project does not have a large tax liability,      commercial sectors; thus, in states that
in 2023, the business multiplies the
                                             tax equity financing may be an option             do not allows PPAs, tax-exempt entities
depreciable basis by 80%:
                                             to take full advantage of federal tax             cannot use the TPO arrangement to
0.8 * $890,000 = $712,000
                                             benefits. The business can partner with a         capture tax benefits.
                                             tax equity investor who has a relatively
Accelerated Depreciation Calculation         large tax appetite and can make use of            Financing
In the example, the business uses            the tax benefits. There are the following         Eligible solar PV equipment purchased
accelerated depreciation to determine        three commonly used models, although              through debt financing qualifies for the
what amount of depreciation it will          the specific arrangements can be quite            ITC. However, individuals (including
deduct in each year from 2023 to 2028.       complicated:                                      partnerships or limited liability
Assuming this five-year recovery                                                               companies), S corporations, and closely-
period, a half-year convention, and a        • Sale-Leasebacks: The developer sells
                                                                                               held C corporations financing a solar PV
200% declining balance method, IRS             the solar PV system to a tax equity
                                                                                               project by borrowing on a “nonrecourse
Publication 946 Table A-1 lists the            investor who leases the system back to
                                                                                               basis” face additional rules that may delay
depreciation rate as 20% for Year 1.           the developer.
                                                                                               claiming of the ITC. Borrowing on a
The business calculates its accelerated                                                        nonrecourse basis means the borrower is
                                             • Partnership Flips: The developer
depreciation deduction by taking                                                               not personally liable to repay the loan, and
                                               and investor form a partnership, and
the difference between the original                                                            the lender primarily relies on the solar PV
                                               the economic returns “flip” from the
depreciable basis and the amount                                                               project as collateral. In general, the portion
                                               investor to the developer after the investor
claimed for the bonus depreciation and                                                         of the solar PV project paid through
                                               makes use of the tax benefits and achieves
multiplying by the depreciation rate:                                                          nonrecourse financing is not immediately
                                               target yields.
0.20 * ($890,000 - $712,000) = $35,600
                                             • Inverted Leases: The developer leases             A Note on Recapture Rules
Total Impact on Tax Liability                  the system to the investor, structuring           Though the ITC can be claimed in full
                                               the agreement in a way that allows the            for the year in which the solar PV
Assuming the business has a federal
                                               investor to use the tax benefits.                 system is placed in service, the
tax rate of 21%, the net impact of
                                                                                                 business claiming the ITC must
depreciation deductions is calculated as:                                                        retain ownership of the system until
                                             Other Issues
0.21 * ($712,000 + $35,600) = $156,996                                                           the sixth year of the system’s
                                             Tax-Exempt Entities                                 operation, or the business will be
Therefore, the total reduced tax liability                                                       required to repay a portion of the tax
                                             Generally, if the solar PV system is used
for 2023 from depreciation deductions                                                            credit. Because the ITC “vests” at a
                                             by a tax-exempt entity such as a school,            rate of 20% per year over five years,
and the ITC is:                              municipal utility, government agency, or            any “unvested” portion is recaptured
$220,000 + $156,996 = $376,996               charity, the ITC may not be claimed.                (i.e., repaid to the Department of the
                                                                                                 Treasury) if something happens
The business will continue to claim          In some states, a tax-exempt entity                 during the five years that would have
accelerated depreciation deductions for      can indirectly benefit from federal tax             made the project ineligible for the
tax years 2024, 2025, 2026, 2027, and        benefits related to solar by entering               ITC in the first place. For example, if
                                             into a third- party ownership (TPO)                 the business claims the ITC and
2028—but the specific depreciation rate
                                             arrangement. Specifically, a tax-exempt             then sells the system a year later,
will vary by year.15                                                                             after it has only vested 20%, it will
                                             entity can agree to purchase the
                                                                                                 have to repay 80% of the amount it
                                             electricity produced by a solar PV system           claimed from the ITC to the
                                             owned and installed by a solar company              Department of the Treasury.
                                             (who claims the associated federal tax
SOLAR ENERGY TECHNOLOGIES OFFICE                                                                4

included when calculating the ITC (although several exceptions
exist); instead, in future tax years, the taxpayer can claim the
ITC on the portion of the loan principal (but not the interest) as
it is repaid.

Structures and Building Integrated PV
Structures holding the solar PV system may be eligible for the
ITC if the solar PV system is designed with the primary goal of
electricity generation and other uses of the structure are merely
incidental.17 Though structural components typically do not
qualify for the ITC, the IRS noted an exception for components
“so specifically engineered that it is in essence part of the
machinery or equipment with which it functions.”18

                                                                                                         Aerial view of solar panels on the rooftop of a building in
Claiming the ITC                                                                                         Rancho Cordova, California. Photo credit Michele Parry.
To claim the ITC, a taxpayer must complete and attach IRS Form
3468 to their tax return. Instructions for completing the form are                                  Energy Storage Systems. Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory. NREL/
available at (“Instructions                                FS-7A40-70384.

for Form 3468,” IRS).                                                                               8If the project commenced construction between January 1, 2020, and December 31,
                                                                                                    2020, and it was placed in service before 2024, the ITC is calculated as 0.26 * $1,000,000
                                                                                                    = $260,000.
More Information
                                                                                                    926 U.S.C. § 136,
Ask Questions                                                                                       2011-title26-subtitleA-chap1-subchapB-partIII-sec136.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS), 1111 Constitution Avenue,                                           10 IRS. 2010, September 3. IRS private letter ruling 201035003.
N.W., Washington, D.C. 20224, (800) 829-1040.
                                                                                                    11For projects claiming a 30% ITC, project owners can depreciate 85% of the tax basis,
                                                                                                    or 100% - 30%/2 = 85% (26 U.S.C. § 168,
Find Resources                                                                                      2017-title26/USCODE-2017-title26-subtitleA-chap1-subchapB-partVI-sec168).
• The federal statute regarding the ITC: 26 U.S.C. § 48 at www.                                     12 A half-year convention is a tax principle that treats equipment as if it were installed                                                                                      in the middle of the tax year (regardless of when it was actually installed), allowing half a
                                                                                                    year’s depreciation for the first tax year. The half-year convention effectively spreads the
• Updated information on the status of the ITC: DSIRE at www.                                       five-year MACRS depreciation over six years, with the first year being calculated as half of
                                                                                                    the 200% declining-balance basis.
                                                                                                    13Before 2018, any unused depreciation could be carried back 2 years and forward 20
                                                                                                    years, but that changed with the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (“Who
Endnotes                                                                                            Needs Sec. 179 Expensing When 100% Bonus Depreciation is Available?” Thomson
                                                                                                    Reuters Tax and Accounting. October 5, 2018.
1126 U.S.C. § 48,
                                                                                                    14The bonus depreciation, after 2018, is available for purchased new and used equipment.
                                                                                                    (Martin, Keith. 2017, December. “How the US Tax Changes Affect Transactions.” Norton
2   Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017                                                                   Rose Fulbright Project Finance Newswire.
3 The IRS has ruled the ITC can be claimed by U.S. corporations, citizens, or partnerships
that own solar in U.S. territories; however, companies and individuals are not eligible to
                                                                                                    15 IRS. 2015. How to Depreciate Property. Publication 946, Cat. No. 13081F. http://www.
receive the tax benefits if they do not pay federal income tax, which means most Puerto   
Ricans and Puerto Rican companies are ineligible. Therefore, solar assets in U.S. territories
would most likely need to be owned by outside U.S. investors to take advantage of the ITC
                                                                                                    16DSIRE (Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency). 2019. Third-Party
(Farrell, Mac, Lindsay Cherry, Jeffrey Lepley, Astha Ummat, and Giovanni Pagan. 2018.               Solar PV Power Purchase Agreements. Updated June 2019.
Reimagining Grid Solutions: A Better Way Forward for Puerto Rico. Prepared for the                  resources/detailed-summary-maps/ (“Detailed Summary Maps”).
Global Collaboratory Panel.
                                                                                                    17Meehan, Chris. “Solar Carports, Incentives and the Investment Tax Credit: It’s
                                                                                                    Complicated, Kinda.” Solar-Estimate. Last updated August 1, 2019:
4No more than 20% of the eligible value of the PV system can be classified as used        
                                                                                                    18 IRS. 2010, October 29. IRS private letter ruling 201043023.
5   Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017                                                                   irs-wd/1043023.pdf.

6“Beginning of Construction for the Investment Tax Credit under Section 48.” IRS.
Notice 2018-59.

7Additional considerations apply when the energy storage device is also used to store
energy generated from a source other than the solar PV system. For more information, see:                           SOLAR ENERGY TECHNOLOGIES OFFICE
• IRS. 2013, February 22. IRS private letter ruling 121432-12.                      For more information, visit:
                                                                                                            DOE/EE-2006 • January 2020
• Elgqvist, Emma, Kate Anderson, and Edward Settle. 2018. Federal Tax Incentives for
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