Dealing a blow to the Historic Tax Credit syndication industry, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on August 27th reversed the Tax Court decision in the Historic Boardwalk Case. In siding with the Internal Revenue Service, the Court of Appeals examined a partnership structure commonly used in the syndication of federal Historic Tax Credits and ruled that the tax credit investor was not partner in the entity generating the Historic Tax Credits. The Court of Appeals concluded that the tax credit investor “did not have any meaningful downside risk or any meaning upside potential in HBH [the entity generating the historic tax credits].” Citing a tax credit recapture guaranty in favor of the tax credit investor to protect its capital contributions and a guaranteed investment contract in favor of the tax credit investor to guaranty its 3% preferred return, the Court of Appeals determined there was no downside risk to the tax credit investor. In a similar vein, the Court of Appeals concluded that the consideration contained in the put and call agreements for the sale of the tax credit investor’s partnership interest had no bearing to the economic reality of the transaction. While the Internal Revenue Service appealed the Tax Court decision on several grounds, the Court of Appeals assumed for purposes of its opinion that the transaction had economic substance and based its decision on one issue – whether the tax credit investor was a partner. Although the Court of Appeals acknowledged sensitivity that “… we may jeopardize the viability of future historic rehabilitation projects,” the Court found that “[w]here we confront taxpayers who have taken a circuitous route to reach an end more easily accessible by a straightforward path we look to substance over form” and the Court concluded that the tax credit investor was not a bona fide partner.
Renewable Energy projects can be viewed as falling into one of three categories. A large and growing industry is the residential solar project market. This market consists of large operators which through their dealer networks have developed a very popular and profitable model for homeowner installation. A well-established market is the utility-scale projects. This market benefits from the demand from traditional owners of energy plants, infrastructure funds and private-equity funding. The third category is the small scale commercial market. While the economics of the small scale market are strong, the market suffers from the inability of sponsors to access the debt and tax credit markets for small commercial projects. In addition, the complexity of renewable energy projects generates substantial transactional costs which are more difficult to be absorbed by smaller commercial projects. Attorneys in the interdisciplinary renewable energy group at Duane Morris are working with middle-market renewable energy sponsors to aggregate small scale renewable energy projects to a critical mass. These projects will then be rolled up to a private equity fund which has access to capital at very favorable interest rates. In addition, the aggregation of the projects generates a larger renewable energy investment tax credit which is more attractive to tax credit investors.
The expiration of the Section 1603 grant in lieu of the federal renewable energy tax credit has had a substantial adverse impact on the development of renewable energy projects in the Country. While some projects were able to grandfather the benefits of the Section 1603 grant by incurring the required costs in 2011, these projects will disappear during the year. In addition, although the grant provides money in lieu of the tax credit it does not monetize the losses associated with the project which most developers do not have the taxable income to use. As a result, less equity is generated for these projects. Historically the renewable tax credit investment community has serviced the very large utility size projects and not the middle market. Duane Morris attorneys are working with investors in the low-income housing, historic, and new markets tax credit industries to educate these investors to the structures and opportunities available for middle market renewable energy tax credit transactions. It is hoped that in the near future a group of investors will emerge to service middle market renewable energy tax credit transactions.