House chairman will ‘revisit’ disputed omnibus tax tweak

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, December 18, 2015

The House’s top tax writer said yesterday he’ll continue discussions next year over a key solar tax break extended as part of the deal to end the crude oil export ban, following a failed effort by a Democratic lawmaker to fix what has been called a mistake in drafting the provision.

Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) acknowledged concern among some members over the investment tax credit, which allows solar developers to write off 30 percent of a project’s costs. Under the omnibus deal, the credit is extended and phased down over five years, while also being tweaked to allow facilities to claim the incentive when they break ground.

The extension was a key priority for Democrats in agreeing to lift the 40-year-old export ban, but as written only extends the credit for solar, leaving out other qualifying sources, including combined heat and power systems, geothermal, small wind, and fuel cells (E&E Daily, Dec. 16).

“We’d be glad to revisit that,” Brady told E&E Daily yesterday. “The focus in the negotiations were clearly on solar, and those specific provisions don’t expire until 2016. Because members have raised it, we’re going to continue to visit with them on that going forward. And we have some areas that members wanted included or they felt the language could have been improved. And so we’ll keep those discussions going, as well. We’ve still got some work to do on the issue.”

Renewable advocates are dismayed that the omnibus language leaves out other sources, an omission that a Senate Democratic aide described as a mistake. Efforts to fix the problem through a “gentlemen’s agreement” were underway yesterday but appeared to be running into resistance in the House.

Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday tried to adjust the credit through an amendment to the omnibus but was rebuffed by the Rules Committee.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a Ways and Means member, yesterday lamented the narrowness of the existing omnibus language but conceded it’s probably not in the cards for this year.

“I think at this time it’s baked,” he told E&E Daily. “I don’t think it rises to the level of something that is a deal-breaker for leadership that’s assembled the piece.”

Blumenauer said renewable backers will try again next year to expand the provision but noted that, for now, the left-out technologies continue to qualify for the ITC until the end of 2016.

“It’s not that different from where we’ve been,” he said. “But what is different is we have more certainty for a host of green energy elements in there, and I think that people will be able to make their case. There will be other things floating around. It will be slightly simplified. But I just don’t see anything anyway at this point is going to change.”