State of Hawaii Unveils Latest Solar Tax Law - HSEA Gives Input

Posted on Friday, November 09, 2012

State unveils new rules for solar tax credits

By Alan Yonan Jr.

POSTED: 09:29 a.m. HST, Nov 09, 2012 

Honolulu Star - Advertiser  November 10, 2012

The state Department of Taxation issued new rules Friday that will effectively limit the ability of homeowners to claim multiple tax credits for the installation of solar photovoltaic systems. The "temporary administrative rules" include language defining a photovoltaic system by its output capacity in an attempt to clarify what constitutes an eligible PV system for tax purposes, department officials said. The rules will be effective for PV systems put in place starting Jan. 1.

Current law allows homeowners to claim an income tax credit of 35 percent for PV systems with a cap of $5,000 per system. However, because the way solar technology has evolved and tax guidance has been interpreted, many homeowners have installed multiple PV systems on their properties, claiming a state credit for each system and effectively eluding the cap.

Under the new rules, PV systems of any size still will be eligible for the 35 percent credit. But for purposes of the cap, a homeowner will be allowed one credit for each five kilowatts of PV- generating capacity. For example, the tax credit for a home with a five-kilowatt PV system would be capped at $5,000. The credit for a home with two five-kilowatt systems would be capped at $10,000.

The Tax Department in 2010 issued guidance on the matter to taxpayers in response to concerns that some PV system owners were having their projects divided into multiple systems to circumvent the cap. The department tried to address the issue by issuing several tax information releases (TIRs) that stated the number of PV systems on a property was determined by the number of independent connections to the main utility meter or circuit breaker.

Despite the guidance, Tax Department officials continued to receive calls and complaints from taxpayers and tax accountants saying the rules were still confusing, according to Fred Pablo, department director.

"The TIRs 2010 didn't do the job," Pablo said. "They allowed an electrical engineer to sign off on matters that could be interpreted as tax avoidance. You should not have an electrical engineer determine what is eligible for a tax credit," he said. "You had one PV installer saying a project was three systems and another saying it was one system. There was no consistency."

Solar industry executives say the new rules will prevent many homeowners from receiving full credit for multiple systems that are installed for valid engineering reasons or because of physical site limitations.

"The rules will result in an average reduction of 50 percent in available credits," said Leslie Cole-Brooks, executive director of the Hawaii Solar Energy Association. "This doesn't help move us toward our clean energy goals. It's a real loss for the homeowner. PV systems will be more expensive by thousands of dollars. That's a big loss right there," she said.

The Blue Planet Foundation, a Hono-lulu-based clean energy advocate, said the rules will have a negative impact on the state's effort to reduce its dependence on petroleum.

"Until now, solar energy installations have been a remarkable bright spot in Hawaii's economy," foundation Executive Director Jeff Miku-lina said in a prepared statement.

"The Blue Planet Foundation believes that the Department of Taxation's proposed rule changes significantly reduce the ability for residents to participate in the benefits of solar energy. The new rules will effectively slash the tax credit in half for the average taxpayer who now chooses to install solar. Homeowners and renters that have yet to adopt solar will have a reduced incentive to take control of their fossil fuel-based energy bills."

The new rules also set capacity thresholds for multifamily residential properties and commercial properties. For multifamily properties, each system for which a credit is claimed must have an output capacity of at least 360 watts per unit per system. Commercial systems must have an output capacity of at least 1,000 kilowatts for each credit claimed.

The PV credits are part of the state's broader renewable energy tax credit program conceived as an incentive to reduce Hawaii's dependence on fossil fuel. The credits started coming under scrutiny in recent years as the popularity of PV systems resulted in the loss of more tax revenue than expected.

State lawmakers last session considered several bills that would have curtailed the solar tax credit, but they were unable to reach a compromise before the session ended. Lawmakers will likely revisit the issue next year.

Credit: Alan Yonan Jr.

Copyright Oahu Publications Inc. Nov 10, 2012

(c) 2012 Honolulu Star - Advertiser. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.

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