Tax overhaul breeds uncertainty for clean energy business

Solar panels stretch across a Minnesota solar farm.
Solar panels stretch across a Minnesota solar farm.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Lawyers and accountants in the renewable energy industry are poring over the details of the tax overhaul President Trump signed into law last week, trying to figure out what companies will lose or gain.

While key tax credits for clean energy were preserved under the new law, it's unknown how the industry will fare under the changes.

The initial good news that wind and solar tax credits are preserved in the law isn't the whole story, said Michael Noble, executive director of Fresh Energy, who has been following developments for the renewable energy sector.

"It's yet to be seen whether renewable energy tax credits are still going to be valuable and help projects get done," he said.

Minnesota utilities have been taking advantage of tax credits to expand wind and solar in the state. That growth is expected to continue in 2018 regardless of the tax bill because companies have been planning them for years.

Beth Soholt, executive director of Wind on the Wires, said the situation may be different for every company and every project.

"Do they have their financing secured? If they don't, they might have impacts to their financing, but it kind of depends on what stage they're at in developing their project," she said.

Tax credits aren't the only thing driving growth in wind and solar energy. The cost of the technology has come down, and more companies and individuals want clean power.

The problem with the new tax law is that it has created uncertainty, which is always bad for business, said Gregg Mast, executive director of Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, a nonprofit that represents clean energy businesses.

Mast said he's working with members of Minnesota's congressional delegation and business leaders to understand what impact the tax bill could have on renewable energy and energy efficiency.

"It's early," he said. "I think with a tax bill this large, there's always an opportunity to come back with a fix bill to address some of those provisions that perhaps were not thought of early on."

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