PTC, ITC or Cash Grant? Which Should a Developer Use?

Lawrence Berkely National Laboratory (LBNL) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have released a combined report that may help wind project developers understand which federal incentives will be most economical: PTC, ITC, or Cash Grant? An Analysis of the Choice Facing Renewable Power Projects in the United States.

The report takes a close look at key provisions in the recent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. These key provisions could have a significant impact on how renewable energy projects are financed in the near future.

Included in these provisions is an extension of the federal production tax credit (PTC). Another provision allows for projects that are eligible for the PTC to elect to receive a 30% investment tax credit (ITC) instead of the PTC. An even more intriguing provisions allows for a project that qualifies for the ITC (or the PTC but elects to receive the ITC) to receive the value of that credit as a cash grant from the Treasury.

The authors analyzed a number of technologies in the report including wind, open- and closed-loop biomass, geothermal and landfill gas projects. The purpose of the analysis is to both quantitatively and qualitatively analyze the choice between the PTC and ITC (or cash grant) from the project developer perspective. Only two technologies showed a clear preference for one incentive over the other: open-loop biomass gets more value from the ITC across the board, while geothermal gets more value from the PTC.

For wind energy, the authors looked at a range of installed costs from $1.500/kW to $2,500/kW and a range of capacity factors from 25% to 45%. They did not include the potential influence on project costs due to nameplate capacity in the presence of economies of scale. These quantitative results showed the PTC provided more value in approximately 2/3 of the cases analyzed.

The authors also looked at qualitative factors that can also influence the decision of which incentive a developer wants to use. These factors include: the option to elect the cash grant; performance risk; tax credit appetite; liquidity; subsidized energy financing; power sale requirement; and the owner/operator requirement. Combining the quantitative and qualitative considerations, the authors found that most wind projects may benefit more from the ITC than they will from the PTC.

As the report concludes, whether a particular project chooses the PTC or ITC or cash grant will depend on any number of factors that will be weighed by each project according to their priorities, and the fact that these choices for federal incentives now exist (temporarily) is a step in the right direction to broaden the participation base in renewable energy.

Click here to download and read the full report (19 pages)