Note: The Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020, signed in December 2020, extended the deadline for eligible systems to qualify for this tax credit. Wind projects started in either 2020 or 2021 will qualify for a production tax credit at 60% of the full rate on the electrical output for 10 years. Tax credits for other technologies may be claimed at the full rate.
The federal renewable electricity production tax credit (PTC) is an inflation-adjusted per-kilowatt-hour (kWh) tax credit for electricity generated by qualified energy resources and sold by the taxpayer to an unrelated person during the taxable year. The duration of the credit is 10 years after the date the facility is placed in service for all facilities placed in service.
Originally enacted in 1992, the PTC has been renewed and expanded numerous times, most recently by the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Relief Act of 2020.
The tax credit amount is $0.015 per kWh in 1993 dollars for some technologies and half of that amount for others. The amount is adjusted for inflation by multiplying the tax credit amount by the inflation adjustment factor for the calendar year in which the sale occurs, rounded to the nearest 0.1 cents. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) publishes the inflation adjustment factor no later than April 1 each year in the Federal Register. For 2020, the inflation adjustment factor used by the IRS is 1.6687.
Earlier legislation introduced a step down of the credit amount for wind, while phasing out the credit for other technologies. Subsequent legislation has pushed back the stepdown for wind and the phase out for other technologies. As such, the credit today includes a 40% step-down in the credit amount for wind, but other technologies can receive the full credit amount. Applying the inflation-adjustment factor for the 2020 calendar year, and the 40% step-down for wind, the production tax credit amount is as follows:
Geothermal and Closed-Loop Biomass: $0.025/kWh
Open-Loop Biomass, Hydroelectric, Landfill Gas, Waste-to-Energy, and Marine Technologies: $0.013/kWh
The duration of the credit is 10 years after the date the facility is placed in service. Two exceptions applied to facilities placed in service more than a decade ago:
open-loop biomass, geothermal, small irrigation hydro, landfill gas, and municipal solid waste combustion facilities placed into service after October 22, 2004, and before enactment of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, on August 8, 2005, were only eligible for the credit for a 5-year period, and
open-loop biomass facilities placed in service before October 22, 2004, were eligible for the 5-year period beginning January 1, 2005.
Investment Tax Credit in Lieu of Claiming the PTC
Renewable energy facilities placed in service after 2008 and commencing construction prior to 2018 (or 2020 for wind facilities) may elect to make an irrevocable election to claim the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) in lieu of the PTC. Wind facilities making such an election will have the ITC amount reduced by the same phase-down specified above for facilities commencing construction in 2017, 2018, or 2019.
Process for Claiming
The credit is claimed by completing Form 8835, "Renewable Electricity Production Credit," and Form 3800, "General Business Credit." For more information, contact IRS Telephone Assistance for Businesses at 1-800-829-4933.
Determination of Commencing Construction
To claim the PTC, construction on an eligible project must have “commenced construction” prior to January 1, 2015. The IRS has issued guidance on how it will evaluate whether construction has commenced in IRS Notices 2013-29, 2013-60, 2014-46, 2015-25, and 2016-31(please see the full text of these notices for complete information on determining the commencing of construction). The guidelines establish two methods—a “physical work” test and a 5% safe harbor (see sections below for details)—to determine when construction has begun on a qualified facility. Meeting the criteria of either method is sufficient to demonstrate that construction has commenced.
Both methods require that a taxpayer make continuous progress towards completion once construction has begun by meeting the Continuous Construction Test (to satisfy the Physical Work Test) or the Continuous Efforts Test (to satisfy Safe Harbor). If a taxpayer places a facility in service during a calendar year that is no more than four calendar years after the calendar year during which construction of the facility began, the facility will be considered to satisfy the Continuity Safe Harbor
Physical Work Test
The physical work test provides that a taxpayer may establish the beginning of construction by beginning "physical work of a significant nature.” The physical work test is based on the nature of the work performed rather than the cost of the work; if the work performed is of a significant nature, then “there is no fixed minimum amount of work or monetary or percentage threshold required to satisfy the Physical Work Test” (Notice 2014-46).
Notice 2013-29 provides several examples of actions that constitute work of a significant nature, including:
for a facility that produces electricity from a wind turbine, the beginning of the excavation for the foundation, the setting of anchor bolts into the ground, or the pouring of the concrete pads of the foundation;
physical work on a custom-designed transformer that steps up the voltage of electricity produced at the facility to the voltage needed for transmission; and
beginning construction of roads integral to the activity performed by the facility including onsite roads used for moving materials to be processed (e.g., biomass) and roads for equipment to operate and maintain the facility.
Safe Harbor with respect to a facility is demonstrated by showing that 5% or more of the total cost of the facility was paid or incurred.