Depreciation of Solar Energy Property in MACRS – Solar Tax Savings
Businesses rely on policy certainty to make long-term investment decisions. SEIA supports smart tax policy that drives continued innovation in the solar industry. Depreciation is one aspect of the tax code that facilitates greater investment in renewable energy and ultimately lower costs for consumers.
- The Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS), established in 1986, is a method of depreciation in which a business’ investments in certain tangible property are recovered, for tax purposes, over a specified time period through annual deductions.
- Qualifying solar energy equipment is eligible for a cost recovery period of five years.
- The market certainty provided by MACRS has been found to be a significant driver of private investment for the solar industry and other energy industries.
The U.S. tax code allows for a tax deduction for the recovery of the cost of tangible property over the useful life of the property. The Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) is the current depreciation method for most property. The market certainty provided by MACRS allows businesses in a variety of economic sectors to continue making long-term investments and has been found to be a significant driver of private investment for the solar industry and other energy industries.
MACRS as a Method of Depreciation
The Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS), established in 1986, is a method of depreciation in which a business’ investments in certain tangible property are recovered, for tax purposes, over a specified time period through annual deductions. MACRS is the method of depreciation used for most property, though assets vary by class, which determines the depreciable life, or cost recovery period, of the property. Class depreciation timeframes vary between three and 50 years, depending on the certain type of property. Some examples of classes include television and radio broadcasting equipment, which qualify for a cost recovery period of five years and office furniture and equipment, which qualify for a cost recovery period of seven years.
Qualifying solar energy equipment is eligible for a cost recovery period of five years. For equipment on which an Investment Tax Credit (ITC) or a 1603 Treasury Program grant is claimed, the owner must reduce the project’s depreciable basis by one-half the value of the 30% ITC. This means the owner is able to deduct 85 percent of his or her tax basis.
Various other renewable energy technologies also qualify for a five-year cost recovery period, including wind energy property, geothermal, fuel cells, and combined heat and power technology. Certain biomass property is eligible for a seven-year cost recovery under MACRS. Other energy technologies qualify for accelerated depreciation, including a 15-year recovery period for nuclear power plants and a seven-year recovery period for natural gas gathering lines.
Accelerated Depreciation Encourages Private Sector Investment
MACRS depreciation is an important tool for businesses to recover certain capital costs over the property’s lifetime. Allowing businesses to deduct the depreciable basis over five years reduces tax liability and accelerates the rate of return on a solar investment. This has been a significant driver for the solar industry and other energy industries.
Accelerated depreciation, along with other successful energy tax incentives such as the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), has helped fuel unprecedented growth in annual solar installations.
In response to the economic downturn of 2008, Congress took action to further incentivize capital investment by accelerating the depreciation schedule economy-wide. The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 allowed companies to claim a 100% depreciation bonus on qualifying capital equipment purchased and placed in service by December 31, 2011. Congress included an extension of 50% bonus depreciation in early 2013 in the so-called “fiscal cliff” deal, which was scheduled to expire at the end of 2013. Under 50% bonus depreciation, in the first year of service, companies could elect to depreciate 50% of the basis while the remaining 50% is depreciated under the normal MACRS recovery period. At the end of 2014, Congress passed a retroactive extension of 50% depreciation such that companies that placed qualifying equipment in service through December 31, 2014 were eligible for 50% bonus depreciation. In December 2015, Congress passed the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015, which included a 5-year extension of bonus depreciation, including a phase-out that is structured as follows: 2015-2017: 50% bonus depreciation; 2018: 40%; 2019: 30%, 2020 and beyond: 0%.
Note: The Consolidated Appropriations Act, signed in December 2015, extended the “placed in service” deadline for bonus depreciation. Equipment placed in service before January 1, 2018 can qualify for 50% bonus depreciation. Equipment placed in service during 2018 can qualify for 40% bonus depreciation. And equipment placed in service during 2019 can qualify for 30% bonus depreciation. Under the federal Modified Accelerated Cost-Recovery System (MACRS), businesses may recover investments in certain property through depreciation deductions. The MACRS establishes a set of class lives for various types of property, ranging from three to 50 years, over which the property may be depreciated. A number of renewable energy technologies are classified as five-year property (26 USC § 168(e)(3)(B)(vi)) under the MACRS, which refers to 26 USC § 48(a)(3)(A), often known as the energy investment tax credit or ITC to define eligible property. Such property currently includes*:
- a variety of solar-electric and solar-thermal technologies
- fuel cells and microturbines
- geothermal electric
- direct-use geothermal and geothermal heat pumps
- small wind (100 kW or less)
- combined heat and power (CHP)
- the provision which defines ITC technologies as eligible also adds the general term “wind” as an eligible technology, extending the five-year schedule to large wind facilities as well.
In addition, for certain other types of renewable energy property, such as biomass or marine and hydrokinetic property, the MACRS property class life is seven years. Eligible biomass property generally includes assets used in the conversion of biomass to heat or to a solid, liquid or gaseous fuel, and to equipment and structures used to receive, handle, collect and process biomass in a waterwall, combustion system, or refuse-derived fuel system to create hot water, gas, steam and electricity. Marine and hydrokinetic property includes facilities that utilize waves, tides, currents, free-flowing water, or differentials in ocean temperature to generate energy. It does not include traditional hydropower that uses dams, diversionary structures, or impoundments.
The 5-year schedule for most types of solar, geothermal, and wind property has been in place since 1986. The federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005) classified fuel cells, microturbines and solar hybrid lighting technologies as five-year property as well by adding them to § 48(a)(3)(A). This section was further expanded in October 2008 by the addition of geothermal heat pumps, combined heat and power, and small wind under The Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008.
The federal Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, enacted in February 2008, included a 50% first-year bonus depreciation (26 USC § 168(k)) provision for eligible renewable-energy systems acquired and placed in service in 2008. The allowance for bonus depreciation has since been extended and modified several times since the original enactment, most recently in December 2015 by the Consolidated Appropriations Act Of 2015 . Equipment placed in service before January 1, 2018 can qualify for 50% bonus depreciation. Equipment placed in service during 2018 can qualify for 40% bonus depreciation. And equipment placed in service during 2019 can qualify for 30% bonus depreciation.
Bonus Depreciation History
The 50% first-year bonus depreciation provision enacted in 2008 was extended (retroactively for the entire 2009 tax year) under the same terms by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (H.R. 1), enacted in February 2009. It was renewed again in September 2010 (retroactively for the entire 2010 tax year) by the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 (H.R. 5297). In December 2010 the provision for bonus depreciation was amended and extended yet again by the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 (H.R. 4853). Under these amendments, eligible property placed in service after September 8, 2010 and before January 1, 2012 was permitted to qualify for 100% first-year bonus depreciation. The December 2010 amendments also permitted bonus depreciation to be claimed for property placed in service during 2012, but reverted the allowable amount from 100% to 50% of the eligible basis. The 50% first-year bonus depreciation allowance was further extended for property placed in service during 2013 by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (H.R. 8, Sec. 331) in January 2013. The Tax Increase Prevention Act Of 2014 (H.R. 5771, Sec. 125), extended these provisions through to December 31, 2014, and thus retroactively for the 2014 tax year.
For more information on the federal MACRS, see IRS Publication 946, IRS Form 4562: Depreciation and Amortization, and Instructions for Form 4562. The IRS web site provides a search mechanism for forms and publications. Enter the relevant form, publication name or number, and click “GO” to receive the requested form or publication. For guidance on bonus depreciation, including information relating to the election to claim either 50% or 100% bonus depreciation, retroactive elections to claim 50% bonus depreciation for property placed in service during 2010, and eligible property, please see IRS Rev. Proc. 2011-26.
*Note that the definitions of eligible technologies included in this entry are somewhat simplified versions of those contained in tax code, which often contain additional caveats, restrictions, and modifications. Those interested in this incentive should review the relevant sections of the code in detail prior to making business decisions.