Tax Law

The Future is Solar: Investing in Solar Energy Using Sale Leasebacks

Alan Morales, MJLST Staffer

Solar energy has come a long way in the last few decades as the cost of producing photovoltaic (PV) cells, the main technology used in converting sunlight into electricity, has significantly decreased. Furthermore, there is a federal tax credit program available, which allows investors in solar energy to claim 30 percent of their solar energy installation cost as a credit on their taxes. This has led residential, commercial and industrial property owners to slowly increase their solar usage.

However solar developers, in many cases, will not have enough tax liability to make immediate use of the tax benefits. An essential financing mechanism for solar developers is a “tax equity” transaction, where tax benefits are sold to raise capital to build the solar project. This demand for cash, has caught the attention of private equity firms, pension funds and foreign investors.

To start, these cash investors must invest through a “blocker” corporation – a US entity treated as a corporation for tax purpose. Cash investors should understand how the tax equity works since they will be investing alongside it. It will also affect what the cash investor can get out of the deal. Then a cash investor might use a sale- leaseback to finance the project. Sale-leasebacks are common in the commercial and industrial rooftop and utility-scale solar markets. In a sale-leaseback, the developer sells a project to a tax equity investor for its fair market value and then the investor leases it back to the developer. In this case, the investor keeps all of the tax benefits, and receives cash in the form of rent from the developer. The developer has taxable gain on the sale to the extent the value of the property exceeds what it cost to build. Although a lessor position is not ideal for some cash investors, it can prove beneficial if they can purchase the project, lease it back to the developer, and sell a portion of the lease to a tax equity investor.

The main benefit to a cash equity investor is the flexibility. Cash investors are in a position to sell as much of its lease position as it wants, and retain as much cash flow as it wants. Sale-leasebacks are enticing for developers because it offers financing for the project while freeing up cash for their other business needs. The tax equity investor is least benefited and would have to become a member of the lessor before the asset is placed in service, which means having to take on some degree of construction risk.


The “Fourth Industrial Revolution”: Queue Chaos And Disarray

Rhett Schwichtenberg, MJLST Staffer

We are all familiar with Hollywood’s drastic miscalculations when predicting the future. In Timecop, which took place in 2004, time-travel was the conventional means of transportation. In the world of Marty McFly, 2015 marked the year where hoverboards were the standard means of transportation. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the moon was colonized by 2001. The list goes on. While we [unfortunately] see none of this today, perhaps Hollywood was not too far off.

Today, robots are shaping the way we live and have contributed a world of good to society. While Google Glass might have been an utter failure, Google’s Self-Driving Car Project is making fast advances to provide the world with hand-free, piece-of-mind driving. Taxi giant, Uber, has also entered the self-driving market with the implementation of self-driving Uber vehicles in the Pittsburgh market. Self-driving technology has the ability to eliminate the extreme and unnecessary amount of traffic deaths occurring every day in addition to providing a reliable mode of transportation for individuals that cannot operate a vehicle. Apart from the transportation industry, robots are growing rapidly in nearly every industry including the agriculture, food service, manufacturing, military, and rehabilitation industries.

Earlier this year, the EU made a proposal calling for the classification of autonomous  robots as “electronic persons.” If codified, this proposal could bestow legal rights upon robots, require companies to pay a social security tax for using them, and impose a liability insurance upon companies using robots in order to protect against any harm they might cause. While ridiculed by many, is there no merit in this proposal?

The age of robotics that is currently among us is being referred to as the “fourth industrial revolution” by economists. The first industrial revolution introduced steam power, the second, electric power, and the third, electronics and information technology. While the past three industrial revolutions have advanced at a linear rate (occurring approximately one-hundred years apart) the current revolution is advancing exponentially. Previous technology has threatened blue-collar jobs, but has never caused us to question whether jobs will even exist in the near future. With the implementation of quantum computing looming, the professionals in scientific and medical fields might experience issues of job security.

Alan Manning, leading author in labor economics and professor at the London School of Economics, seems to remain calm, cool, and collected when tasked with answering the question of how autonomy will affect the labor market. He strongly opines that such technology should not be taxed. Implementing the proposed tax will slow the advancement and use of such technology. Instead, Manning expects investment in modern technology to increase productivity and, at worst, leave the labor market where it currently stands. Manning believes the expert prediction that 47% of jobs will be threatened by autonomic robots is just that, a mere prediction. He retorts that such a prediction is grounded in ignorance rather than educated measures. Manning states that the entire job market must be looked at, not just the specific occupations that will see job reduction. Looking at the job market as a whole, Manning admits that jobs will be lost in some areas, but trusts that new jobs will arise due to an increase in companies’ spending power through the use of autonomic robotics.

So given that autonomic robotics and advanced computing technology is already written in our future, what are the implications of such technology? The simple answer is: we must wait and see.