one year later
Houston experts evaluate the impact of the IRA on cleantech project development
It's been officially a year since the Inflation Reduction Act was enacted, so it's no surprise that looking at the IRA's impact dominated the discussion at a recent industry event.
The second annual Renewable Energy Leadership Conference, presented by Renewable Energy Alliance Houston and Rice Business Executive Education, featured thought leadership from 20 experts on Tuesday, August 22. While some panels zeroed in on hiring and loan options for energy transition companies, the day's program kicked off with a couple panels looking both back and forward on the IRA.
When looking at the IRA's impact, the experts identified a few key things. Here's what they said at the conference.
Going beyond tax credits and regulation
Greg Matlock, EY's global energy and resources industry tax leader, kicked off the IRA discussion after John Berger, CEO of Sunnova, gave a keynote address.
Matlock set the scene for the IRA, explaining that previous legislation incentivizing clean energy changes mostly stayed within regulation and tax credits. Credits as a tax policy fail to incentivize organizations that are, for various reasons, are tax exempt or are already paying insignificant taxes. The fundamental switch of the IRA was to a "want to" rather than a "have to."
"Everyone has had aspirations, but with aspirations without capital, it's hard to get movement," Matlock says. "But what the IRA did was create a liquidity in the market and added access to an investor base. Now you're pairing aspirations and capital, and now you're seeing movement in the market."
The IRA, Matlock continues, also got the ball rolling on expanding requirements for tax incentives. Previously, a specific technology has to be clearly identified to be qualified for a credit. Moving forward, the IRA improved this qualification process and in the future, there will be be technology neutral incentives.
One thing Matlock also highlighted was the limitations of tax credits — dollar for dollar credit.
"Two years ago, if you called an organization that was tax exempt (about) a project that generates tax credits, why would that want that?" Matlock says. "For the first time, you can sell federal tax credits — not all of them — for cash and tax free to businesses who are paying taxes."
Explaining that there are limitations, Matlock says this process had a significant impact encouraging movement in this space — especially from surprising sources.
"We're seeing companies that have absolutely no connectivity to our energy industry making investments through the purchase of tax credits to fund the development of projects," Matlock says.
A focus on carbon capture and hydrogen
Matlock continues to explain how carbon capture and hydrogen became two case studies for the impact of the IRA.
Prior to the IRA, over 16 countries incentivized hydrogen production, he explains, and the United States was not one of them.
"With the signing of the IRA, we went from the worst to the first," Matlock says.
Carbon capture development was directed more at traditional energy industries. The IRA enactment represented a switch for these companies from regulatory moves to incentivization, which has been more effective in general, Matlock says.
Over the past year, according to the American Clean Power Association, more than $271 billion in investment in clean energy projects has occurred since the IRA was enacted. When it comes to jobs, over 170,000 clean energy jobs have been announced since the IRA.
Problematic permitting and pricing volatility
In a subsequent panel, the three thought leaders looked at the IRA a bit more critically. While the IRA spurred momentum, it also shined a spotlight on some of the industry's challenges.
"The IRA for developers has been very positive. It provided certainty and allowed developers and investors alike to plan long term," says Omar Aboudaher, senior vice president of development for Leeward Renewable Energy. "With that comes challenges, including exacerbating some existing problems with permitting."
Aboudaher explains that the IRA-inspired burst of projects has caused a lot more permits for the increase of development. And, he adds, there's not a concentrated effort. It's happening in silos on the various levels of government.
"On the permitting side, there's a big need to streamline permitting," Aboudaher says. "In some parts of the country, it can take 6 to 10 years to permit your project."
On the investor side, it's also a problem, adds Fred Day, managing director of investments at Brookfield Asset Management.
"Even though we have this IRA, a lack of permitting reform does create a bottleneck," he says.
Another challenge is a disconnect between supply and demand. While the IRA has incentivized solar energy generation per hour of energy, meaning that its cheaper than ever to make energy via solar panels, there's not yet the demand infrastructure for this energy. This incentivization structure has already been in place for wind power.
"I think it's going to be a real problem. It's a real problem with wind today," Doug Moorehead, COO of Broad Reach Power, says, explaining that there's volatility in pricing. "When the wind is high, prices are really low. When wind is low, prices are high."
All of this is leading to an imbalance of market demand and supply, he continues. Jessica Adkins, partner at Sidley Austin LLP and moderator, adds that there's built in volatility for solar since solar energy is confined to the time of day when the sun is out.
"Any time you're incentivize to produce regardless of demand, it's going to be an issue," Moorehead says.