How to Calculate the 30% Federal Solar Tax Credit

If you’re buying a solar energy system today, one of the most generous solar incentives that you’re entitled to is the 30% federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC). But not everyone who goes solar is eligible to receive it, and for those who do, there are different ways to calculate it. We’ve created a helpful FAQ / layman’s guide to the solar federal ITC, but please note that we can not offer tax advice and all information concerning tax credits should be confirmed with your tax adviser.

What is the Federal Solar Tax Credit?

A tax credit is not a tax deduction. With a tax deduction, you deduct some amount off your gross income to determine your taxable base income. A tax credit is much better. It can be used to pay off your owed federal taxes. So, it’s sort of like receiving an IRS gift card.

Do I qualify for the solar panel tax credit?

Any U.S. taxpayer who purchases a solar or other renewable energy system is eligible to receive the 30% solar ITC.

However, if you installed your solar system with a solar lease or a solar PPA, then you’re not eligible. Since the leasing company owns your solar system, they will receive the ITC. But most leasing companies take the value of the 30% ITC into consideration when calculating your lease rate, so you can still benefit indirectly.

How Do You Calculate the 30% Solar ITC?

Calculating the 30% ITC differs for homeowners and commercial businesses. Homeowners calculate the 30% on the net installed cost; i.e., after you’ve deducted the value of any state or utility rebates. For example, say the total cost for your solar installation was $15,000 and you received a utility or state rebate of $3,000, your total upfront expense is now $12,000. Consequently, to calculate the 30% ITC:

30% x $12,000 = $3600 tax credit that you can use to pay your taxes to the IRS.

For businesses installing commercial solar projects, the rebate is calculated on the gross installed cost of the solar system; i.e., before deducting for any local or utility rebates. So, using the same example:

30% x $15,000 = $4,500 tax credit that your business can use toward Federal businesses income taxes.

You might think that businesses get a higher ITC formula. However, the IRS considers the $3000 utility rebate as earned income, and therefore the business has to pay tax on that $3000. For residential homeowners, the IRS considers the $3000 as a “reduction in value,” sort of like a sale discount, and therefore it is not taxable.

Is the Value of the 30% ITC Refundable?

What if you’re eligible to receive the ITC, but you don’t owe any taxes this year? Will the IRS send you a refund check for $3000, using the above example? Unfortunately, the 30% ITC is not a refundable credit. However, you can use its value for up to 5 years after installing your solar system, so you’ll be able to use it partially or fully for the following year’s tax bill, or for subsequent years.

Once again, we’re not tax attorneys, so please be sure to verify all of the above ITC information with your tax representative.

In summary, the solar ITC is a very valuable solar incentive if you’re going to purchase a solar system with either cash or a home equity loan. For homeowners that finance their solar systems with a solar lease or a solar PPA, it’s indirectly included in your monthly payments.

Impacts of the new ITC Extensions

The ITC has resulted in an extremely effective subsidy in catalyzing rooftop and utility scale solar energy adoption across the U.S. The multi-year extension from late 2015 has caused the cost of solar to drop while installation rates and technological efficiency improve. The federal investment credit is a perfect example of innovative tax policy investing in 21st century energy system and technology.

Industry experts estimate a total of 27 gigawatts of solar energy has already been installed in the US by 2015, and predict we will have cumulatively nearly 100 GW by the end of 2020. From 2015 to 2017 there was 25% increase in the number of solar industry jobs and forecasted to increase throughout the next decade. The federal solar rebate program is proof that long-term federal tax incentives can drive economic growth, technological innovation to reduce costs, and creating a new generation of jobs and skill sets. To learn more about how this program affects California and/or Hawaii, contact REC Solar.

Solar Energy Credits FAQ

Solar tax credit – everything you need to know about the federal ITC for 2018

Fundamentals of Investment Tax Credit (ITC)

Due to the approval of the 2016 federal spending bill, solar panels an affordable form of renewable energy. The bill passed by Congress, more formally referred to as the investment tax credit (ITC), allows homeowners to deduct 30% of the cost of implementing solar energy systems from their federal taxes. ITC applies to commercial and residential solar energy systems, which has made the utilization of solar energy more affordable for American citizens.

How ITC is Changing the Solar Industry in 2018

The Energy Policy Act installed in 2005 initiated the federal ITC and was to last until the end of 2007. However, multiple extensions were granted to prolong the duration of the ITC until the year 2016. As the demand of solar energy rose, experts began to analyze owner’s policy of setting up their solar array. The extension of the policy has allowed for improvements of economical and environmental utilization of solar energy for consumers and suppliers. In late December 2015, Congress passed the federal bill to extend to homeowners until 2021. The specifications of the bill follows:

Currently Policies
2016 – 2019: The tax credit remains at 30% of the cost of owner’s new solar panel system.

Future Policies
2020: Tax reduction of 26% of the cost of owner’s new solar panel system.
2021: Tax reduction of 22% of the cost of owner’s new solar panel system.
2022 onwards: Tax reduction of 10% of the cost of owner’s new solar panel system. There is no federal credit for residential solar energy systems.

Prior to the ITC, owners of new solar panel systems could not claim tax credit unless their system was in full operation. Legislation is now allowing owners to claim tax credit after the installation and construction of system is finished – as long as system is fully operatable by December 31, 2023.

Qualifying for Solar Panel Credit

Any owner of a solar energy system may qualify for solar tax credit. If an owners does not have enough tax liability to claim the entire credit in one year, the owner has the ability to use those remaining credits in future years. By “rolling over” the remaining credits, the owner will be able to receive full benefits from claiming tax credits. Before inquiring about solar credit, check to see if your solar panels have been issued through a lease or PPA of installer. If the owner is on a lease or PPA, then the owner would not be eligible for tax credit due to not being the proprietor of the system.

Claiming Solar Credit

As an owner of a solar system, tax credit can be claimed when filing a yearly federal tax return.

If using an accountant to file your taxes, make sure to let your accountant know that you are implementing solar energy on your property.

If filing your own taxes:
Check if you are eligible for ITC by making sure you are the proprietor and your federal tax liability are in order.
Complete IRS Form 5965 to validate your qualification for renewable energy credits. Add your renewable energy credit information to your 1040 form that you normal file.

Tips When Considering Solar Energy Systems

Investing in solar energy is a big financial decision and should be made with thorough consideration. Business owners should research as many solar energy options as possible in their considerable area. For some, leasing or a PPA lease may be a better option for businesses with less capital.

Related Topics
REC Blog
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SREC Finance 101
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