The IRS is expected to issue guidance on a range of issues surrounding the new 26% tax credit for wood and pellet heaters that are 75% (HHV) efficient or higher. This blog looks at how the tax credit has been interpreted in the past for solar panels and other technologies, as well as the intent of the lawmakers who wrote and passed the provisions. The Alliance for Green Heat cannot give tax related advice and interested parties should always consult a tax professional.
What did Congress pass?
At the end of 2020, Congress passed an omnibus relief package (download PDF version, page 2449) that included numerous provisions on renewable energy and energy efficiency. Among those was the inclusion of biomass heaters in section 25(D) of the IRS tax code, the investment tax credit (ITC) that has applied to residential solar panels. The technical term used in the omnibus bill is “qualified biomass fuel property expenditures” which is defined as “the burning of biomass fuel to heat a dwelling unit located in the United States and used as a residence by the taxpayer, or to heat water for use in such a dwelling unit, and which has a thermal efficiency rating of at least 75 percent (measured by the higher heating value of the fuel).”
Congress removed biomass stoves from section 25(C), which had provided a $300 tax credit up until December 31, 2020, to prevent a “double benefit,” or double dipping under two sections of the tax code.
The credit is set at 26% of the installed cost for 2021 and 2022, then drops down to 22% in 2023. It is set to disappear altogether in 2024 unless extended, which is common.
Much of the guidance the IRS is expected to issue about wood heaters is non-controversial and will likely to be consistent with solar. There is one distinct issue that has plagued this industry in the past: how is 75% efficient at the higher heating value defined and how much leeway do manufacturers have to stretch the meaning? Congress stipulated that it must be HHV, but the final language did not say that the EPA list of certified heaters is the definitive way to determine efficiency, although that is almost certainly what the IRS will allow. There is no other consistent, reliable way for retailers and consumers to know which heaters are actually 75% efficient or higher.
Over the past 7 years, there have been a number of bills and extensive correspondence about strengthening the definition of 75% efficiency and moving wood heaters from section 25(C) to 25(D). The only method that Congress has referred to is using the efficiencies on the EPA list of certified stoves. No other method has been suggested. For instance, the Home Energy Savings Act of 2019 introduced by Senators Hassan and Collins, said:
“This section would tighten energy efficiency standards for biomass stoves by requiring the efficiency to be determined in reference to the EPA’s “List of EPA Certified Wood Stoves,” “List of EPA Certified Hydronic Heaters,” or “List of EPA Certified Forced-Air Furnaces.” Biomass stoves, through 2020, would be required to have a thermal efficiency rating of at least 73 percent against these tighter standards. After 2020, biomass stoves would be required to have a thermal efficiency rating of at least 75 percent against these tighter standards.”
This language was crafted in conjunction with the Biomass Thermal Energy Council, the main architect of the language and the years-long advocacy process. A final effort led by Innovative Natural Resource Solutions culminated in the residential portions of the BTU Act being included in this ominous spending package in December, 2020. The Alliance to Save Energy. the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, the Alliance for Green Heat and HPBA also agreed on parallel language that would have strengthened the efficiency criteria for an enlarged credit under 25(C) by referencing the EPA's database of certified wood and pellet heaters.
Until the IRS issues guidance, AGH urges retailers and consumers to rely on the EPA's database of certified heaters to ensure that the heater you install will be eligible for this credit. Anyone who relies on claimed efficiencies in marketing materials should do so at their own risk and be prepared to forgo the tax credit if the stove is labeled under 75% efficient on the EPA list.
Updating IRS Form 5695
The new tax credit is for the installed cost, including purchase price, sales tax, labor costs, and items necessary for installation, such as venting and floor protection. The IRS is expected to provide more detail on items associated with installing wood heaters. In the meantime, consumers should retain receipts for all those expenditures.
|Some stove manufacturers issued |
certificates for stoves under 65%
to claim eligibility for the $300
This DOE publication on calculating the tax credit for solar panels is very instructive on the range of issues that will apply to installing high efficiency wood heaters. For issues pertaining to stove manufacturers issuing certificates of eligibility, this blog provides more detail.
Much of the existing IRS guidance for solar panels, reproduced below, will likely to apply to wood heaters. Text in italics are quotes from IRS guidance on the 25(d) tax credit.
2019 IRS Q&A on Tax Credits for Section 25D
Manufacturers Certification. “A taxpayer may rely on a manufacturer’s certification that property is eligible for the credit so long as the Service has not withdrawn the manufacturer’s right to make the certification. The notices further clarify that the Service may determine that a manufacturer’s certification is erroneous; in such cases, the Service will withdraw a manufacturer’s right to provide a certification on which future purchasers of the component or property may rely, and taxpayers purchasing the component or property after the date on which the Service publishes an announcement of the withdrawal may not rely on the manufacturer’s certification.”
Can a taxpayer claim the credits for expenditures incurred for a newly constructed home?
“A taxpayer can claim the § 25D credit for qualifying expenditures incurred for either an existing home or a newly constructed home.”
May a taxpayer claim the credits in the year of purchase if installation of the qualifying property occurs in a later year?
“No. A taxpayer may not claim the credits until the year the property is installed.”
Are the credits available for improvements made to a second home (for example, a vacation home or an investment property)?
“A taxpayer may claim a § 25D credit for other qualifying properties described in § 25D for solar electric property, solar water heating property, small wind energy property, and geothermal heat pump property installed in or on a dwelling unit used as a second home or a vacation home by the taxpayer. But a taxpayer may not claim the § 25D credit for expenditures for improvements made to an investment property, such as rental property, that is not also used as a residence by the taxpayer.” AGH expects guidance on wood heaters to be the same as these other technologies.
May a taxpayer claim a credit if the qualified property is also used for business purposes, such as in a dwelling unit in which the taxpayer also conducts a business?
“For 25D, if a taxpayer uses property solely for business purposes, the property will not qualify for the credit. For a taxpayer who otherwise qualifies for the credits, but whose use of the qualified property for business purposes exceeds 20 percent, §§ 25C(e)(1) and 25D(e)(7) provide that the taxpayer, when calculating the amount of credit, may take into account only that portion of the expenditures for the property that are properly allocable to use for nonbusiness purposes. A taxpayer who qualifies for the credits and whose use of the qualified property for business purposes is not more than 20 percent may claim the full credit.”
May a taxpayer include labor costs when calculating the credits?
“When calculating the § 25D credit, a taxpayer may include the expenditures for labor costs properly allocable to the onsite preparation, assembly, or original installation of the qualified property and for piping or wiring to interconnect the qualifying property to the home.”
May a taxpayer include sales tax when calculating the amount of expenditures eligible for the credits?
“Generally, yes. Because the sales tax on a qualifying property is part of the amount paid or incurred, a taxpayer may include the amount of sales tax when calculating both the § 25D credit.”
If a government or a public utility provides a subsidy (for example, an incentive, grant, or rebate) to a taxpayer to purchase or install a qualifying property under § 25C or § 25D, is the taxpayer required to reduce the cost basis of the property by the amount of the subsidy received, thereby reducing the amount of the qualified expenditure for which a credit may be claimed?
“Rebates generally represent a reduction in the purchase price or cost of property, and the taxpayer must exclude the amount of the rebate from the amount of the qualified expenditure on which the taxpayer calculates the tax credit. In general, in order for a receipt of funds to be considered a nontaxable rebate, the rebate must be based on or related to the cost of the property; the rebate must be received from someone having a reasonable nexus to the sale of the property, for example, the manufacturer, distributor, or seller/installer; and the rebate must not represent payment or compensation for services.
Generally, a taxpayer is not required to reduce the purchase price or cost of property acquired with a governmental energy-efficiency incentive that is not a rebate. Many states label their energy-efficiency incentives as rebates, but these incentives may not in fact constitute rebates or purchase-price adjustments for federal income tax purposes.”
“The taxpayer does not reduce the amount of the qualified expenditure by the amount of the state tax credit claimed in calculating the credits.”
If a taxpayer finances the purchase of a qualifying property under § 25C or § 25D through the seller of the property, may the taxpayer calculate the amount of the credit based on the full cost of the property if the taxpayer is contractually obligated to pay that entire amount?
“Yes. If the taxpayer is contractually obligated to pay the full cost of the qualifying property, the taxpayer may claim a tax credit based on that amount.”
May a taxpayer claim a credit for payments of interest owed through financing or for expenses such as an origination fee or an extended warranty?
“No. Interest expense is not part of the expenditure for qualifying property under § 25C or § 25D. Other miscellaneous costs such as an origination fee or an amount paid for an extended warranty are also ineligible for the credits.”
May a taxpayer claim a credit for property that the taxpayer leases rather than purchases?
“No. A taxpayer must purchase the qualifying property to claim the credits under §§ 25C and 25D.”
May a taxpayer claim the credits when the taxpayer does not have a manufacturer’s certification that the property is eligible for the credit?
“Yes. A taxpayer may qualify for the credits under §§ 25C and 25D without a manufacturer's certification statement if the taxpayer can show that the property meets the required efficiency standards. A taxpayer should retain documentation sufficient to establish the entitlement to, and amount of, any credit.”
Is an expenditure for a solar air heater eligible for the § 25D credit?
No. Section 25D(d)(2) defines a qualified solar electric property expenditure, in part, as an expenditure for property that uses solar energy to generate electricity for use in a dwelling unit. Section 25D(d)(1) defines a qualified solar water heating property expenditure, in part, as an expenditure for property to heat water for use in a dwelling unit if at least half of the energy used by such property for such purpose is derived from the sun. A solar air heater that warms air and does not generate electricity or heat water is not eligible for the § 25D credit.
Is a manufacturer of geothermal heat pump property that provides a certification pursuant to Notice 2009-41 required to become an Energy Star partner?
No. A manufacturer of geothermal heat pump property is not required to become an Energy Star partner to provide a certification pursuant to Notice 2009-41. However, the geothermal heat pump property must meet the requirements of the Energy Star program in effect at the time the taxpayer purchases the property. Furthermore, any manufacturer that provides a certification must retain in its records documentation establishing that the property meets those requirements and, upon request, make such documentation available for inspection by the Service.