Capturing Tax Incentives from Energy Retrofits

firstenergymonopolyAs we approach the month of April, we draw closer to the deadline to file our taxes. Though we all experience a bit of dread at this prospect, tax season doesn’t always have to carry a negative connotation. Unknown too many of the clients I work with, are a number of tax exemptions or incentives for the energy related retrofits that they perform. In many cases, the value these deductions present can be as lucrative to the project as the energy savings themselves.

Below is a very high level (and overly simplified) overview of three tax mechanisms available in the market today. There are certainly more to consider (qualified leasehold improvements and bonus depreciation), but these represent the most reoccurring opportunities I have found for my clients. Some have strict deadlines regarding when you can claim the deduction while others require detailed engineering studies. It is important to be aware these opportunities exist, but ultimately, you will want to work closely with your tax professional to capitalize on the full value.

EPAct 179D

This is probably the most commonly used tax tool we can offer to our clients. This federal legislation was passed in 2005 to provide a tax related incentive for businesses to curtail energy consumption. It offers up to a $1.80 per square foot tax deduction for improvements made to buildings. The deduction is available in three equal parts related to HVAC, Building Envelope, and Lighting. Each is eligible for a deduction of $0.60 per square foot.

Case Study: Recently, I worked with a manufacturing client on an LED retrofit for their facility. The building is approximately 40,000 square feet. This project was eligible for the $0.60 per square foot deduction through 179D. Their write-off on their tax returns is $24,000. To determine the actual monetary impact, we simply multiplied their deduction by their effective tax rate. A top end tax rate of 39.6% yields a value of $9,504 of avoided tax payments.

Removal and Partial Disposition

This tax deduction allows you to write down the remaining depreciable cost basis of what gets thrown in the dumpster during a renovation or improvement of a building. Everything with a deprecation schedule can be included. It is a one-time tax benefit for building owners that can also incorporate the labor on the project. Each building and retrofit project is unique, so deduction values will vary. It is not uncommon to capture 15% to 25% of the total renovation value.

Cost Segregation

This is an approved IRS mechanism to accelerate depreciation of certain assets. Typically, most owners will utilize a straight line deprecation schedule of 39 years for their whole building. Cost segregation breaks our various components of the building and accelerates their depreciation schedule. Some key elements of cost segregation include the following.

  • Depending on the component, depreciation schedules can be reduced to 5, 7, or 15 years
  • This can apply to anyone who spent $250K or more on a building or $200K on leasehold improvements
  • The building should have been acquired or renovated in the last 15 years
  • Benefits will vary, but a general rule of thumb is $50,000 Income Tax Deduction per $1 million of building cost basis.  Benefits will range based on building type

 

Taxes always appear complicated and challenging to understand. Do not allow that to be a deterrent. There are too many great opportunities in the market to capture additional value for the work you are already performing. In addition, in many cases, I have found the deductions my clients can claim often make projects more tenable because of the reduced payback period. If you do not already work with a tax professional that can help you understand your options, feel free to contact me directly (eauerbach@energyplanners.com) and I can help pair you with a reputable professional in your community.

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2016 Energy Industry Predictions

2016-energy-predictions-blog2015 has proven to be a very interesting and dynamic year in energy. Events large and small have had an economic impact both globally and locally across the country. A few notable highlights include this year being the hottest year on record, oil prices trading below $35 a barrel, and renewable energy possibly reaching a global tipping point.

I have spoken to many clients over the past couple of months inquiring about what 2016 has in store. The most frequent inquires I get pertain to what will happen with the markets, legislation, and regulations affecting how they will do business in the upcoming year.

I spent the better part of the fourth quarter researching and interviewing fellow industry experts to ascertain where the industry will go in 2016. Below are my energy industry predictions for 2016.

  • Nationally, the supply of natural gas is up compared to this time last year. The regional transmission grid (PJM) serving Ohio has announced it has adequate capacity to meet energy demands this winter. This winter is projected to be warmer than average. Taken collectively, this means businesses should expect energy prices in our region to trend lower and costs to be down this winter compared to last year.
  • After two consecutive summers of dramatically increasing electric rates, consumers in northeast Ohio can expect much better pricing during the summer of 2016. Many consumers wisely locked into longer two and three year fixed rate contracts over the past two years. For a large number of consumers, those contracts are expiring during the first half of 2016. Now is the time to explore new contract terms with your energy advisor.
  • LED lighting technology, efficiency, and pricing improved dramatically over the past year. Though there will continue to be improvements to the technology, it is unlikely the industry will achieve improved pricing at quite the same rate. Businesses that have been waiting to install LEDs until the market reaches a plateau on pricing, may want to consider 2016 as the year to make their move.
  • Contrary to popular belief, there are still incentives available for energy efficiency retrofits; you just need to know where to look. There is a very good likelihood that SB 310, which froze the energy portfolio standards in Ohio, will expire by the end of the year. That means businesses could expect a return of the rebates First Energy once offered. But large electric consumers still have incentives they can capitalize on in the form of an exemption to costly riders attached to their electric use. Businesses should consult their energy advisors to learn more.
  • Columbia Gas of Ohio customers will continue to have access to favorable rebates. Columbia provides service to a majority of counties throughout Ohio. Their rebate program is very comprehensive extending from residential to commercial and new construction.
  • President Obama’s Clean Power Plan will continue to foster dialogue and potential turmoil within the energy market. State lawmakers and utilities have cited that the plans objectives will prove prohibitively costly to plant operations. A number of states, including Ohio, have already filed suit against the EPA in court. Either way, the end result will affect energy markets.
  • The Federal Government passed, and signed into law, a $1.1 trillion budget and tax extenders bill at the end of 2015. Included was an extension of Section 179D in the tax code that allows for qualifying businesses to receive up to $1.80 per square foot in deductions for eligible energy efficiency projects.

The energy markets are historically too volatile to perfectly predict. One certainty though is those businesses that are prepared with a plan are better insulated against unexpected weather anomalies, global crises, and unforeseen regulations. Be sure to consult with your energy advisor about implementing a contingency to properly manage your energy portfolio in 2016!

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Energy Upgrades—Is Total Cost of Ownership the Best Way?

total-cost-of-ownershipWhen evaluating energy upgrades, the #1 question a business will ask is always, what is the return on our investment (ROI)? How much am I (really) going to save from doing this project? Traditionally in energy efficiency projects, Total Cost of Ownership analysis is the universally accepted way of determining ROI. While total cost of ownership is a good benchmark for evaluating the value of energy upgrades, it isn’t the ‘be all end all’ way of determining the projects benefits. In this blog, I’ll discuss total cost of ownership analysis, as well as additional methods for getting the most accurate ROI projection for your energy efficiency project.

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is defined as, “an estimation of the expenses associated with purchasing, deploying, using, and retiring a product or piece of equipment. “ Let’s look at a school system deciding whether or not to upgrade to LED lighting. While the florescent lights the district is currently using has a lower starting price, LED lights may have a better value over an extended period of time. If the total cost of ownership shows an advantage of LED lights over florescent lights in the next 2-5 years, than the LED lights are most certainly the better choice. However, there are complicating factors, such as access to capital, alternative capital expenses, and the current economic situation of that particular school district that should also be considered.

A total cost of ownership analysis takes into consideration multiple factors including initial cost, product lifespan, energy cost to operate, frequency of maintenance, expense of product replacement, hours of operation, utility incentives, and how the product will be used. While this is the go-to method of gauging the value of energy efficiency projects, EPCO likes to take this analysis a step further. It is common practice to determine TCO by using industry standard figures for maintenance, repair and operation (MRO) expenses. EPCO has found this isn’t always the most accurate method for determining ROI in energy upgrades.

At EPCO, we believe interviewing the client and understanding their unique energy fingerprint, is the best method for understanding the true inputs and cost of operational expenses. Some businesses have energy expenses that are higher than the industry standards. For example, manufacturers that operate and run equipment more heavily during second shift will likely have a more unfavorable load profile than their counterparts producing mostly during first shift. This effects avoided cost values. EPCO will always review historical billing and consumption patterns to determine the true value of an energy efficiency project.

Although SB 310 led to the discontinuation of small commercial energy rebates throughout northern Ohio, larger businesses and school systems have the potential to capitalize on remaining incentives and tax credits for energy efficiency projects. One such example is receiving an exemption to costly utility fees and riders that appear on all electric consumer bills. EPCO has the expertise to identify, prepare, and submit exemption applications on behalf of clients. Most energy firms overlook this option, but it has added benefits for many large businesses and school districts.

Total cost of ownership is the standard way of determining the added value of energy efficiency projects. Though this analysis can give an accurate judgement of savings with projects, industry standards are not always the best indicator of true ROI. It is important to take an individualized, case-by-case approach, when evaluating energy efficiency projects. To learn more about how this could help your organization, email EPCO at info@energyplanners.com, or visit us at www.energyplanners.com

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EPCO Energy Infographic

Recently EPCO decided to evaluate the influence our team has had within the energy marketplace. We were curious to know what the economic and environmental impact has been from the projects we have facilitated over the past couple of years. To that end, we identified several key metrics from each projects portfolio, and put it into an infographic to share with prospective clients.

We were really pleased the results, and have opted to share it with the larger community. The numbers speak for themselves, but there are three metrics I would like to highlight.

  • $1.87 million in annual energy savings
  • Average project payback period is 0.96 years
  • Energy savings are the equivalent of more than 11.1 million pounds of coal burned

All Projects Infographic

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The Time to Shop for Your Natural Gas is Now

It’s hard to believe, but the summer is slowly winding to a close. Even though days are still long and temperatures are high, now is when you want to start thinking about your natural gas contract.

Many businesses, non-profits, and residential consumers only consider their natural gas rate in few instances. It may be when winter arrives and the heat gets turned on or simply when your current contract expires. After all, for most, natural gas comprises a relatively small percentage of monthly expenses.

There is however a number of non-residential entities that pay a considerable amount for natural gas through the winter. This includes manufacturers, hospitals, schools, and even churches. In some cases, reducing rates by a matter of cents can add up to thousands in annual savings.

We have seen the adverse effect a cold winter can have on the budget. Just think back to the beginning of 2014 when the nation was overcome by the polar vortex. This of course was unexpected for most and hit many hard in the wallet.

Now though is the perfect time to negotiate your natural gas rate. Currently, gas reserves are up more than 5 percent over last year and prices have trended down these past 12-months. As we get closer to the winter season, the prices will go up. This is a function of supply and demand. Purchasing now enables you to capitalize on lower rates. If you signed a 12-month contract at a higher rate, renewing now will save you money during the following winter.

You have several options for exploring a natural gas contact. If you are a smaller consumer, there are programs through your utility and local brokers you can work with. Be sure to understand the terms of the contract offered and the fine print. Consult an energy advisor if you are unclear about any terms in the contract.

Additionally, most local chambers of commerce will offer their membership what is known as community aggregation programs. If you are not already part of your local chamber, you may want to consider exploring the many benefits they can offer.

If you are a larger consumer, spending perhaps $10,000 monthly on energy or more, there are additional options available to you. The market has become rather sophisticated with a number of products to select from. Though you may be experienced in managing your companies’ energy portfolio, it certainly would benefit you to explore options with your energy advisor to ensure you are making the most informed decision.

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Why Energy Benchmarking Is For You

Energy benchmarking is an extremely valuable tool in today’s energy marketplace. However, many who manage energy portfolios today are not taking advantage of the resources available to benchmark their facility. Anecdotally, I have found, this is due in large part to the fact many do not know or understand what benchmarking is.

When you benchmark your facility, you are tracking the total electricity, natural gas, steam, water and other utility that your building consumes. In many circles, this is also known as your building performance. Once you have collected the requisite data, you can compare your building performance to facilities that are similar in size and operation to your own.

I recently took time to meet with a colleague, Justin Kale of Energility, to better understand the value proposition of energy benchmarking. Justin is a specialist in this field and shared the following thought.

“Benchmarking is similar to the use of a compass when navigating a path. It is a great way to establish where you’re at and monitor your position over time. This enables you to see how far you have come over a period of time with respect to building energy performance.”

Benchmarking provides the busy CEO, CFO or facility management team, baseline information to be able to compare the energy portfolio of their building to other buildings in their peer group. Once you identify areas for improvement, you can begin to craft an energy plan. Benchmarking gives those same professionals the opportunity to prioritize the deployment of capital resources or achieve recognition for past project implementation.

There are a number of great resources that are accessible in the marketplace to help facility managers to benchmark their performance. One of the more prominent tools is the Energy Star Portfolio Manager. It was created by the EPA to be an “online tool you can use to measure and track energy and water consumption, as well as greenhouse gas emissions”.

Benchmarking will enable facilities to make informed decisions on where investments should be made regarding their capital projects. Ultimately, knowing how your building operates and where weaknesses exist will allow you to reduce consumption, costs, and operational expenses. Furthermore, benchmarking is a process that many can do on their own by leveraging the tools in the marketplace. Whether through the EPA and its Energy Star programs or the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, the resources exist to manage this process on your own.

The final thought I will leave you with is benchmarking can aid you in staying ahead of impending energy mandates and legislation. Whether federal or local, the energy landscape is rapidly changing. It will prove far less costly to become energy efficient on your timetable rather than someone else’s.

As always, if you have questions or concerns about energy benchmarking, consult an energy adviser to help you make the best and most informed decision.

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Can a Single Business Battle the Effects of Climate Change?

Is it possible for just one person or one business to battle the effects of climate change? Perhaps a more appropriate way to evaluate that question is to simply ask if you and your business could. It seems like an unrealistic expectation; the idea that a single company can impact a global crisis. Such a goal may not be as out of reach as you may think.

Earth

Let’s take a step back for a moment to appropriately set the stage. Recently, a peer reviewed article outlining the critical effects of climate change began receiving some notable attention from outlets such as CNN and USA Today. The research article painted a grim and distributing image of what Earth’s future may look like in the absence of necessary change in global human behavior.

Originally appearing in Science Advances, the premise of the article argues that Earth is possibly facing the 6th mass extinction event in the planets history. Since 1900, nearly 500 species have gone extinct. During that period, historical data indicates that number should have been just 9.

Arguably, the most alarming conclusion is that the loss of biodiversity would lead to a mass extinction event in as little as three generations. According to the CNN article, the data shows it is possible for humans to wipe out nearly 75% of species on Earth if drastic and needed changes aren’t made. That window to effect change is rapidly closing.

Scientists are not the only ones advocating for considerable change in human behavior. In June, the Pope published a manifesto regarding climate change. In his writings, the Pope argued the reckless behavior of humanity is adversely affecting our planet; a common good that we all must take care of.

Whether advocated by science or the Pope, the steps we all can take amount to the same. It boils down to reducing your carbon footprint. This simple concept is the impetus for energy efficiency, and the foundation for all that I do with my clients. Regardless of your motivations for energy efficient behavior, we each can do our part.

Let’s revisit our original premise. It is difficult still to imagine that a single person or company can effect change on a global scale. But what happens when millions of people and thousands of companies work in concert.

At the end of the day, it wasn’t simply one business, government, or entity that created this problem. It was countless participants, spanning decades, within countries around the globe. Each has played a singular role in what is quickly developing into a global catastrophe.  It stands to reason that we can reverse this trend in much the same way; one business and one person at a time, doing their part.

The one remaining question is what role you will play moving forward…

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Energy Efficiency: Transaction vs. Consultative Approach

Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar. You’ve been tasked with managing the energy portfolio for a building. Your company may be a manufacturer, hospital, school or commercial real estate property. Regardless of your specific operation, the common thread is that you likely have a very small operating budget, minimal staff, and host of ongoing issues that land on your desk.

You want to be proactive; planning for future issues before they arise, but the resources you are given forces you to be reactive.

As I meet with clients in varying industries, I continually hear this same narrative. To add insult to injury, many of these managers express the challenge of juggling additional responsibilities outside their defined position. Obviously, this further strains their budget, time, and personnel.

Building Construction

This struggle sets the stage for two opposed energy management methods, transaction versus consultative.

A transaction sale can be categorized by solutions that are specific to equipment failure or end of life. You would see this for example with an old boiler or HVAC unit. After decades of operation, they simply stop working. This requires the consumer to engage in a point of sale transaction.

Usually, the replacement comes with a premium cost because of the urgency. In many cases, this could easily erase whatever capital budget you had planned to use for energy efficient upgrades.

Contrary to a reactive transaction is a more proactive consultative approach. We can simplify this with two specific examples.

In the first example, your energy advisor can help you address the unique pain points your facility must deal with. A common one I often come across are issues with facility lighting. It may surprise you to learn that with older lighting technology, you will experience over time lumen degradation. This is a fancy way to say your fixtures aren’t emitting as brightly today as they did when first installed.

(A simple solution for this is to install an LED fixture. Prices for LED solutions have come down dramatically and have become more economical. The life of an LED fixtures last substantively longer than outmoded CFL solutions.)

The second example is the purest form of energy consultation. In this instance, your energy advisor would work alongside you to draft a comprehensive energy management plan. This includes identifying all existing pain points, categorizing remaining equipment life, and producing an analysis on potential retrofit costs and payback periods. This latter portion should factor available incentives and rebates as well as creative or alternative financing mechanisms.

This enables you to prepare, well into the future, for all contingencies and eventualities. You can include capital improvement projects in annual budgets, factor in the energy savings, and ultimately avoid untimely failures that can dramatically disrupt production.

For many dealing with complex energy issues, transaction selling has become the norm. Emerging resources in the market can help you better plan, prepare and manage energy portfolios. Leveraging an advisor can enable you to develop a more structured approach and avoid the roller coaster that has been your energy management strategy to date.

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Should Businesses Invest in Wind and Solar?

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a friend in Colorado. It was a trip designed to give me some much needed R&R and a chance to hike, run, and just be out in nature; the latter of which I should probably do much more often. Despite being a recreational trip, the energy consultant in me couldn’t help but notice the prevalence of renewable technology… everywhere. It was common to see turbines and solar farms or houses whose rooftops were lined with solar panels. It was an interesting contrast compared to Ohio.

I had asked my friend, a celebrated thought leader in the sustainability industry, how solar, wind, and other renewables became so prevalent around Colorado. The answer was really quite simple. People wanted it. From consumers to legislators, it was a function of demand and political will. There is a burgeoning industry of installers and a fair amount of incentives pushing people in this direction. And it almost seemed like the utilities were going along with it without a fight.

Back home, I am often asked by clients, if installing solar panels or erecting turbines is a good investment to make. The answer of course depends on why they are doing it. If the intent is to be used as a marketing tool, or simply because the company feels it’s the right thing to do, then yes. But if someone in Ohio today is pursuing renewables as a cost savings measure, then no, it is not a recommendation that I would make.

So why would someone who promotes energy efficiency and sustainability not recommend renewables? Let’s look at Ohio’s recent renewable history to better understand.

Colorado Pic

At the beginning of the decade, it appeared as though Ohio was making strides within the renewable sector. This included creating thousands of “Green jobs” along with massive increases in wind and solar production. Despite this, Ohio still ranked near the bottom in renewable electricity and generation capacity compared to the nation.

Over two-thirds of electricity in Ohio is derived from coal, and another twenty percent from natural gas. Only 1.5 percent was from renewable sources in 2010. To make matters worse, the renewable energy industry has shifted dramatically in just the last year. In 2014, the state legislature passed Ohio Senate Bill 310, imposing a two-year moratorium on Ohio’s renewable energy standards.

I am hugely in favor of developing renewable energy sources through improved technology and more cost effective production. The reality though is Ohio is not ready for that. Ohio is still a coal state and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Also, it’s probably going to take a federal effort along with public-private partnerships for investment in renewables to garner the necessary results.

When working with clients, my job is simple. Improve their energy portfolio and identify cost savings with strategies that are effective and efficient. Unfortunately, renewable options today don’t fit into that paradigm. Until they do, I will continue to advocate for smart efficient solutions that meet the unique needs of the businesses I work with.

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Identify Energy Solutions with an Energy Advisor

The energy industry today is more dynamic and complex than ever before. The advent of new technologies, shifting energy costs, and the constant barrage of federal and state legislation, has made it extremely difficult for consumers to stay adequately informed. For these reasons, EPCO is a huge proponent of the idea that every business should have an energy advisor.

The concept of an energy advisor hasn’t fully taken hold throughout the marketplace. Perhaps it is because most businesses don’t clearly understand what an energy advisor is, or, how they would use one. Think of it in these terms. A typical business will utilize a lawyer for legal needs or a CPA for accounting. There are many professionals and firms that can provide the same consultative services for managing your energy consumption.

Advisor Image

For smaller enterprises, you may leverage the expertise of an energy advisor to negotiate better rates for your gas and electric utility. But if you are a larger consumer, like most clients I work with, your energy management needs could be substantial. The right advisor can help identify and craft energy solutions for a myriad of concerns. This may include lighting audits and retrofits, power factor correction studies, or improvement to process cooling / heating performance.

You want to be sure to work with the right advisor, not all are created equal. Each client that EPCO collaborates with receives a unique and customized energy evaluation. No two businesses have the same needs or operate in the same way. Your energy consultant should provide you with a distinctive energy saving solutions that will allow you to make immediate and lasting cuts to your operating budgets.

Working in concert with you, and focusing on your specific needs, a reputable advisor will design a sensible compilation of measures that provide for turnkey energy efficiency solutions. Ultimately, you will want to take a long-term planning approach, leveraging short term savings opportunities that are invested into more capital intensive projects. This diversifies energy portfolios and ensures a cost effective and sustainable path into the future.

There are many more factors to include. You will want to leverage potential financing and rebates as well as develop a structured strategic plan to help guide you. The first step though is to find and work with the right team of professionals. The world of energy procurement and management is virtually the Wild West. Make sure you are coming armed with the right support.

 

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