Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Renewable Energy Companies Look For Tax Equity Revival


The financial crisis has opened a void in financing for renewable-energy projects as troubled investment banks have pulled back, potentially providing opportunities for smaller banks, investment funds and utilities as new government backing for clean energy starts to flow.

Some non-traditional firms are expected to step up their investment in renewable-energy projects, which had been dominated by big players like Bank of America Corp. (BAC), JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Morgan Stanley (MS). But money hasn't come fast enough for many developers of wind, solar and other clean-energy projects, which are scrambling to secure funds, even as the U.S. government promises a flood of money in the hope of kick-starting investment in a sector seen key to rejeuvenating the economy and weaning the country off of fossil fuels.

Lending was fluid when the banks had large balance sheets and could make use of a 30% renewable energy investment tax credit. The banks would invest in clean-energy projects in exchange for the developing company's tax credit and a related tax write-off called accelerated depreciation, but as losses have mounted, the big investment banks still standing have cut back on their tax- equity financing.

This has hurt companies like OptiSolar and eSolar, privately held solar power developers in California that have had to sell their project development businesses due to a lack of financing.

Medium-size banks like U.S. Bankcorp (USB) and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. (8306.TO) unit Union Bank N.A. say they plan to expand their tax equity investments in renewable projects, and utilities like California's PG&E Corp. ( PCG) and Sempra Energy (SRE) have said they're interested in financing such projects for the first time. The firm has spoken to U.S. House Banking Committee Chairman Barney Franks about its proposal, in which the Treasury Department would provide investor-note financing to eligible corporations that have tax capacity, said Jack Casey, the firm's vice chairman in Washington.

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