Stimulus Package Provides Economic Benefits for Certain Renewable Energy Projects

The White House 2008 Economic Stimulus Package contains a 50% bonus depreciation and increased Section 179 expense provisions that could provide significant economic benefits for certain renewable energy projects that are acquired and placed in service in 2008. Along with changing State Rebate and Federal Tax Incentives programs, residential, commercial and public sector decision makers need to engage professional assistance and move quickly to acquire energy efficiency and sustainable energy systems for the best price.

The Stimulus Package does not extend the Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC). Although efforts are underway to gain such an extension, the ITC, that has been in existence since January 1, 2006 will expire December 31, 2008. The ITC now rewards consumers with a 30% tax credit on all technologies that promote a form of solar energy. There is no cap on the amount of the credit for business users and there is a $2,000 cap for residential users. The new energy bill (H.R. 6) will roll the credit back to the former 10% level for businesses and be discontinued for homeowners at the end of 2008 unless a new extension is won.

The 50% Bonus Depreciation, effecting commercial property, needs to be evaluated against a customized pro forma to meet specific objectives. The new Section 179 rule raises the expense from $112,000 to $250,000 for qualified capital investments up to $800,000.

Such a customized approach needs to be fulfilled by qualified solar energy engineers.

The parameters of the Depreciation plan include several factors. To qualify for bonus depreciation, the property that is part of a renewable energy project must satisfy the following four criteria: (i) the property must have a recovery period of 20 years or less under normal tax depreciation rules, (ii) the original use of the property must commence with the taxpayer seeking to claim the deduction, (iii) the property generally must be acquired during 2008 and no written binding contract for the acquisition must have been in effect before 2008, and (iv) the property must be placed in service during 2008 (or, in certain limited cases, 2009).(1)

To qualify for the Federal Tax credit a solar energy system must be fully commissioned. This means the system has been designed, installed, tested and placed into service, per IRS rules. Solar photovoltaic systems, for example, can take anywhere from 4-6 weeks on a residential rooftop and up to 6 months for commercial applications, depending on size and design complexity.

Another factor in the pricing landscape for solar power systems in California is the diminishing California Solar Initiative rebate program. Solar rebates from this program work on a trigger mechanism. When a certain level has been fulfilled, then the program drops to the next level and a lower rebate amount. A qualified solar installation firm can determine the rebates involved in each project.

A third factor, for those in the territory of Southern California Edison, is the continued electricity price rate volatility resulting from rate increases on fossil-fuel based energy sources. In January, residential clients received a 14.8% price increase in one of the biggest utility areas of the state, Southern California Edison. Businesses are experiencing a substantial increase as well in this region.

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