Demistifying Solar Tax Incentives

I recently gave a talk for the Montana Sustainable Business Council on the incentives available for energy conservation.  I touched on federal and state tax credits, utility based grants and rebates and the state of Montana DEQ Revolving Loan Fund for renewable energy.

In the talk I mentioned that there has been some question as to whether the 30% federal tax credit for renewable energy installation (which is no cap and can be carried forward for multiple years), is to be taken on the gross cost of the system or the net cost (after applied utility grants) of the system.

Turns out it’s either — depending on your system, residential or commercial, according to Kenton D. Swift, PhD, CPA, Associate Professor of Accounting, The University of Montana, School of Business Administration.

He was in the audience at my talk and was kind enough to approach me afterward to further discuss this question.  After some research he got back to me via email with the following information:

I wanted to give you a little information about one part of your presentation. When a homeowner installs a solar pv system, and receives a utility rebate, they need to reduce the cost of the system by the utility rebate before calculating the 30% federal tax credit. For instance, if the system costs $13,000 and the utility rebate is $6,000, the credit would be 30% of $7,000 or $2,100. This is actually the way you calculated the credit in your presentation, but you hinted it might be possible to take the 30% credit on the full cost. This seems to be a common confusion.

There are actually two separate 30% federal income tax credits, one for personal residences (IRC Code Sec. 25D), and one for business (IRC Code Sec. 48). Generally, the credits are the same except for this one issue about netting utility rebates. The law requires that the rebate be netted against the cost before calculating the 30% credit when taking the residential credit (IRC Code Sec. 25D). I have attached a recent letter from the IRS chief counsel’s office which describes this netting process. Again, it is the same way you actually did your example at the meeting, which is great.

For the 30% federal BUSINESS credit (IRC Code Sec. 48) there is no specific requirement to net the utility rebate against the cost of the system, before calculating the credit. Actually, there does not seem to be any current law explaining what to do. Thus, I believe that when taking the business credit, most taxpayers take the credit on the full cost of the system, before utility rebates. This is a better result than one can get when calculating the residential credit.

I hope that helps to clarify a confusing issue, which you have handled very well.

Someone at the meeting also asked about the property tax exemption for solar pv systems in Montana. Kent went on to clarify that “such systems are exempted from property taxes for 10 years.”

At SBS Solar we go to the DSIRE database for all of this information and have even been referred to this site by the IRS when we called them about the above questions!  This is also the site that Kent relies on for much of his information, or confirmation of information.  He notes that he has “checked their information for many states, and it always seems to be up-to-date, when I compare their explanation to state law.”

Feel free to be in touch with SBS Solar on your energy conservation incentive questions, or to get a project started in Montana.

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