50(d): What Does It Mean for the Tax Credit Market?

17 Aug 2016


Recent guidance from the IRS will provide certainty to the tax credit market.

Last month, we wrote in SOURCE that after years of anticipation, a 50(d) income ruling would soon be released. Sure enough, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued temporary regulations in the Federal Register on July 22. In its issuance, the IRS clarifies its recognition of the income associated with the tax credit for lease pass-through transactions and whether that income should be included in a partner’s outside basis calculations. It has broad implications for many market participants.

To take a step back, let’s look at the lease pass-through structure and understand how it has different capital accounting treatment for the investment tax credit (ITC) compared to the partnership flip.

Under the partnership flip structure, the regulations direct tax equity investors to deduct half of the value of the 30 percent investment tax credit (ITC) when calculating their outside basis in year 1. Solar tax equity investors utilize outside basis for the purposes of realizing the depreciation associated with the investment, and calculating a gain or loss upon exit from the partnership that owns the project after the recapture period. Reducing an investor’s outside basis therefore means reducing the investor’s ability to absorb losses and/or take a capital loss upon exit – both of which are benefits for tax equity investors.

In a lease pass-through structure, the ITC is instead passed through to the Master Tenant where it is then allocated to the partners. Section 50(d) requires the partner to include one-half the ITC ratably into income across the depreciable life of the asset (in this case, five years). The inclusion of one-half the ITC value into income results in greater taxable income for the partner.

But here’s the key. Under normal accounting treatment, any taxable income received increases the capital account. An increase to the capital account, you guessed it, allows a partner to absorb greater losses, offset taxable income, and enjoy a larger loss on exit (depending on the particular deal). In other words, for a tax-laden investor, 50(d) income is a good thing. The industry broadly followed this interpretation, making the lease pass-through structure quite popular despite its particular complexities.

Then, almost two years ago, the IRS sensed peace in the kingdom and announced it would issue clarity on this subject. In December, news broke that guidance was pending, creating uncertainty in the tax credit market, mainly in the form of price bifurcation as investors and syndicators priced these transactions differently depending on views on how IRS would ultimately interpret the rule, variations on who would wear the risk, and bets on when the guidance would in fact be released.

In its ruling, the IRS states that:

  • Investors are not entitled to an increase in their capital accounts under 50(d)
  • 50(d) income is a partner item not a partnership item, and each partner in the lessee partnership is the taxpayer
  • 50(d) income does increase a partner’s outside basis

Now that the industry has more clarity on IRS intent, it is our expectation that the tax credit market will find a new equilibrium for transactions moving forward. Moreover, additional certainty may attract new investors to the solar ITC space, as historic and other tax credit markets also adapt to these changes.

If this all sounds wonky, it is. Don’t worry; we are here to help. To learn more, contact from our tax structured team at finance@solsystems.com with the subject line “Tax Equity”. We have placed tax equity into over 200MW of solar assets across the country, and can explain what the temporary regulations mean for investors.

This is an excerpt from the August edition of SOURCE: the Sol Project Finance Journal, a monthly electronic newsletter analyzing the solar industry’s latest trends based on our unique position in the solar financing space. To view the full Journal or subscribe, please e-mail pr@solsystems.com.


Sol Systems is a leading solar energy investment and development firm with an established reputation for integrity and reliability. The company has financed approximately 450MW of solar projects, and manages over $500 million in assets on behalf of insurance companies, utilities, banks, and Fortune 500 companies.

Sol Systems works with its corporate and institutional clients to develop customized energy procurement solutions, and to architect and deploy structured investments in the solar asset class with a dedicated team of investment professionals, lawyers, accountants, engineers, and project finance analysts.

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Sara Rafalson

Sara Rafalson