By Chuck Crumbo
Published August 2012
There’s little interest among banks and investors to fund clean energy ventures in South Carolina.
And with an assortment of grants expiring as stimulus money nears the end of its funding cycle, entrepreneurs are left to sift through scores of federal and state tax credits and loan programs to finance their enterprises.
Read more exclusive in-depth business news in the biweekly print edition of the Columbia Regional Business Report. Click here to subscribe online or for more information.
Many of the programs offered through the S.C. Energy Office focus on energy efficiency, said Lancaster, who spoke at the S.C. Clean Energy Summit July 18 at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.
Statistics show that while South Carolina has some of the lowest energy rates in the country, it has one of the highest bills, Lancaster said, noting that the state ranks 25th in energy prices, but 12th in total energy bills.
The high bills are largely attributable to the state’s housing stock, Lancaster said. So making homes more energy efficient is a goal of the energy office.
“This is one of our low-hanging fruit where we can reach out and actually make a difference in the amount of energy we are using,” Lancaster said. Energy efficiency projects an average five-to-one return on investment.
One of S.C. Energy Office’s major funding source is the Conser Fund, which offers low-interest loans for public agencies and nonprofit organizations.
While the focus is on energy conservation, it does cover some renewable energy projects, she said.
The loans — at 2% interest — cover 100% of the project cost up to $500,000 a year, Lancaster said. The maximum term is 10 years.
South Carolina offers a number of alternative energy tax incentives, said Tushar Chikhliker, an attorney with Nexsen Pruet. Some incentives are aimed at the purchase of technology using alternative fuels as opposed to establishing facilities to manufacture alternative energy sources.
“The reality, though, is that a lot of these companies, especially startups, don’t have state income tax liabilities,” Chikhliker said. However, the law allows the tax credit to be banked and consumed when a company does have a tax liability, he added.
Another incentive on the books is the fee in lieu of taxes, which reduces the burden of property taxes for qualifying companies, Chikhliker said. The state also offers a job development credit for all companies, however the credit is greater for alternative energy projects.
One federal program that could help companies at least save money is the New Markets Tax Credit, said Tyler Smith, of Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd.
Established by Congress in 2000, the program aims to spur new or increased investments into operating businesses and real estate projects in low-income communities, Smith said.
Individual and corporate investors receive a credit against their federal income tax in exchange for making investments in specialized financial institutions called Community Development Entities, according to the U.S. Treasury.
The credit totals 39% of the original investment amount and is claimed over seven years — 5% for each of the first three years and 6% for each of the remaining four years.
A number of federal tax credit programs are still on the books, Smith added.
“There is a shelf inventory of a tremendous amount of credits from prior year allocations because they have a five-year period in their award bank,” Smith said. “They are out there ready, willing and able to be deployed for the right projects and the right geographic areas.”
The absence of banks at the project financing session wasn’t for lack of effort, said Tom French, executive director of the S.C. Clean Energy Business Alliance, which hosted the summit.
“We spent a lot of time trying to get banks to come and talk about it,” French said. “We had a couple of people lined up and they said, ‘No, we’re not going to talk about it.’”
Developing ties to the banking and investment community is important to the clean energy business sector, French said.
“It’s a clear issue that we’re going to try to work on with everybody to solve,” he said. “It’s real important to get some investment capital.”
Reach Chuck Crumbo 803-401-1094, ext. 204