A recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reveals that IRS tax subsidies to green energy operators have resulted in $15.1 billion in foregone revenue to the federal government, $13.7 billion of which was lost to renewable energy projects.
The GAO has sounded its concern that Congress cannot evaluate the effectiveness of Investment Tax Credit (ITC) or Production Tax Credit (PTC) programs funded by this money. Evaluation becomes difficult when “the total generating capacity [the projects] supported is unknown because the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is not required to collect project level data from all taxpayers claiming the ITC or report the data it does collect, nor is it required to collect project-level data for the PTC.” So, as of now, any decisions made by Congress regarding the extension of the ITC or PTC are based on rough estimates, an environmental moral compass, or just how a representative is feeling that particular day.
What data has been reported suggests a certain government addiction to renewable energy subsides. From 2004 to 2013, around 2,000 renewable energy projects were built adding 69,000MW of generating capacity. This number, however, is dwarfed by the 157,000MW of generating capacity added by just the 500 traditional utility scale electricity generation projects built during the same time. For a tenth of the cost of renewable projects, traditional energy projects were able to generate more than double the energy.
In addition to green energy subsides, most states have implemented some form of a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that requires a certain percentage of the electricity coming from retail service providers must be obtained from renewable sources. This artificial increase in demand along with subsides may be giving renewables like solar and wind a better chance than the technology in its current state deserves.
The GAO concludes that eliminating the ITC/PTC will almost certainly decrease the number of new renewable energy projects. Without these tax subsides green energy developer’s returns would decline and a rise in prices to compensate for the withdrawal of federal support would turn renewable energy into a luxury item.
Gina Larson is a Future Leaders intern and is currently a student at American University, majoring in International Relations.