On July 27, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals (the “Court”) published its long awaited decision in the case of Alta Wind I Owner-Lessor C et al. v. United States, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 20931 (Fed. Cir. July 27, 2018) (“Alta”). The Court vacated and remanded the lower court decision, holding that allocation of the purchase price should be made using the residual method of Section 1060 of the Code.
In Alta, the developer (the “Seller”) of several wind farms (the “Projects”) sold the Projects to an investor (the “Buyer”) shortly before the Projects were placed into service and immediately leased the Projects back from the Buyer. Once the Projects had been placed in service, the Buyer applied for grants under Section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“Section 1603 Grants”). The Section 1603 Grant program was created to increase investment in domestic, clean energy production. Under Section 1603, Treasury made payments in lieu of investment tax credits to eligible applicants for specified energy property used in a trade or business or for the production of income. The purpose of the 1603 payment was to reimburse eligible applicants for a portion of the cost of installing the specified energy property, including solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, fuel cells, hydropower, combined heat and power, landfill gas, municipal solid waste, and microturbine property. In the case of Alta, the Buyer treated virtually the entire purchase price as eligible basis for purposes of the Section 1603 Grants and claimed a total of over $700 million in Section 1603 Grants. In turn, Treasury reduced the amount of Section 1603 Grants to approximately $495 million, a reduction of over $206 million. Treasury based its determination based on the actual development and construction costs of eligible property, plus a “turn-key premium since the Projects were complete and ready to operate. The Buyers filed suit in the Court of Federal Claims (the “Claims Court”) to recover the $206 million shortfall and the government counterclaimed, stating that it had overpaid plaintiffs by $59 million.