TODAY’S STUDY: ENERGY SUBSIDIES, THE NUMBERS AND THE MEANING
First, it is vital to understand that governments ALWAYS subsidize energy because energy is vital to governments.
To accuse a government of ill-doing because it supports the energy it needs to make the country go makes as much sense as to accuse a car driver of ill-doing for paying for gas: If it would be better for that driver to ride a bicycle, somebody needs to make riding a bicycle the better value proposition.
The coal industry had no problem with this principle when it was the darling of the British government in the 19th century and the oil industry had no problem with it when it was the U.S. golden child in the first half of the 20th century and the nuclear industry was pleased to be the chosen one from the 1960s to the 1980s.
But ever since the nations of the world realized they have to count greenhouse gas emissions and they have no solution for nuclear waste and they decided it would be prudent to start supporting New Energy, the Old Energies have begun throwing fits about energy subsidies.
Does New Energy get an inequitable slice of the federal pie? It depends on how you count.
The report highlighted below is the result of some crafty Republicans' request that the U.S. Energy Information Administration update its 2007 take on subsidies. They realized they could play the expected results to the advantage of their Old Energy patrons if the new report used the same flawed approach it had used previously.
In 2007, the EIA evaluated a single year’s subsidies and offered a subsidy-dollars-per-megawatt-hour-of-electricity-generated conclusion. This is not necessarily the most accurate way to count subsidy dollars. Energies that have been supported for decades may not presently need or get as much support as those that have more recently become more highly valued.
A coal plant built in 1965 has been the beneficiary of subsidies for 45 years. A wind farm built in 2008 is collecting the bulk of its support now but will get no more federal money after 2017. Yet, by the EIA calculation, the wind farm is at present getting the bulk of the federal dollars.
Are large current energy subsidies to New Energy inequitable? With some historical perspective, it is clear that the New Energies’ subsidies are not out of proportion with what the Old Energies have been granted over the decades.
Furthermore, current subsidies to New Energy simply demonstrate that, going forward, governments believe it to be the better value proposition.
The fact is that, whether the Old Energy industries and their lawmaker minions want to see it or not, what is happening is a shift in which energies are considered mature and which are considered vital. Governments all over the world have realized they must put a higher priority on the energy of the 21st century.
This is not inappropriate.
The coal industry would not be what it is if it had not been given a railroad system through which to operate a century and a half ago.
The U.S. oil industry would have strangled on terminal greediness if Congress had not granted it the oil depletion allowance and the golden gimmick in the middle of the last century.
Nobody would have built nuclear plants in the 1970s if the government hadn’t, through the Price-Anderson Act, indemnified the industry against its inevitable occasional catastrophes.
And the New Energies, in partnership with Energy Efficiency, will not be able to rescue this good earth from the worst ravages of energy wars, pollution, radiation and climate change if the safe, ever renewable power in its sun, wind, deep heat and flowing waters is not valued highly enough to be given the support it needs to proceed with this era’s changing of the guard.
Direct Federal Financial Interventions and Subsidies in Energy in Fiscal Year 2010
July 2011 (U.S. Energy Information Administration)
This report responds to a November 2010 request to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) from U.S. Representatives Roscoe G. Bartlett, Marsha Blackburn, and Jason Chaffetz for an update to a 2008 report prepared by EIA that provided a snapshot of direct federal financial interventions and subsidies in energy markets in fiscal year (FY) 2007, focusing on subsidies to electricity production (Appendix A). As requested, this report updates the previous report using FY 2010 data and is limited to subsidies that are provided by the federal government, provide a financial benefit with an identifiable federal budget impact, and are specifically targeted at energy markets. Subsidies to federal electric utilities, in the way of financial support, are also included, as requested. These criteria do exclude some subsidies beneficial to energy sector activities (see box entitled “Not All Subsidies Impacting the Energy Sector Are Included in this Report”) and this should be kept in mind when comparing this report to other studies that may use narrower or more expansive inclusion criteria.
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Energy subsidies and interventions discussed in this report are divided into five separate program categories:
Direct Expenditures to Producers or Consumers. These are federal programs that involve direct cash outlays which provide a financial benefit to producers or consumers of energy.
Tax Expenditures. These are provisions in the federal tax code that reduce the tax liability of firms or individuals who take specified actions that affect energy production, consumption, or conservation.
Research and Development (R&D). These are federal expenditures aimed at a variety of goals, such as increasing U.S. energy supplies or improving the efficiency of various energy consumption, production, transformation, and end-use technologies. R&D expenditures generally do not directly affect current energy consumption, production, and prices, but, if successful, they could affect future consumption, production, and prices.
Loans and Loan Guarantees. These involve federal financial support for certain energy technologies. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is authorized to provide financial support for “innovative clean energy technologies that are typically unable to obtain conventional private financing due to their ‘high technology risks.’ In addition, eligible technologies must avoid, reduce, or sequester air pollutants or anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases." …
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Electricity programs serving targeted categories of electricity consumers in several geographic regions of the country. Through the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Power Marketing Administrations (PMAs), which include the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and three smaller PMAs, the federal government brings to market large amounts of electricity, stipulating that “preference in the sale of such power and energy shall be given to public bodies and cooperatives.” 2 The federal government also indirectly supports portions of the electricity industry through loans and loan guarantees made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) at interest rates generally below those available to investor-owned utilities.
With the exception of the federal electricity programs and loan guarantee programs, this report measures subsidies and support on the basis of the cost of the programs to the federal budget as provided in budget documents…
This report measures support provided by federal electricity programs by comparing the actual cost of funds made available to these entities to the cost of funds that they might otherwise have incurred. Similarly, the value of the support provided by DOE’s loan guarantee program is estimated by analyzing what the costs of financing eligible projects might be without the guarantees and the cost of the credit subsidy required for the guarantee. Uncertainties in the estimation of subsidy and support costs for federally-guaranteed loans, federal utilities, and participants in Rural Utilities Service loan programs are reflected by providing a range of subsidy estimates for selected programs in the body of the report. To facilitate exposition, the Executive Summary presents only midpoint value estimates for these programs.
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Not All Subsidies Impacting the Energy Sector Are Included in this Report
This report only includes subsidies meeting the following criteria: they are provided by the federal government, they provide a financial benefit with an identifiable FY 2010 federal budget impact, and, they are specifically targeted at energy. These criteria, particularly the energy-specific requirement, exclude some subsidies that benefit the energy sector. Some of the subsidies excluded from this analysis are discussed below.
For example, Section 199 of the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, referred to as the domestic manufacturing deduction, provides reductions in taxable income for American manufacturers, including domestic oil and gas producers and refiners. The value of the Section 199 deduction in FY 2010 is estimated at $13 billion and approximately 25 percent is energy-related. While domestic oil and natural gas companies utilized this provision to reduce their 2010 tax liability, other industries, including traditional manufacturing sectors and other activities such as engineering and architectural services, sound recordings, and qualified film production, also took advantage of it.
Accelerated depreciation schedules arise from many provisions of the tax code and are widely available to energy and non-energy industries. Because the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows firms and individuals to deduct depreciation as an expense when computing their tax liability, accelerated depreciation front-loads deductible expenses, thereby reducing the present value of that liability. Accelerated depreciation provides a subsidy only to the extent that the amount of depreciation specified by the IRS exceeds the true economic “wear and tear” costs. Most empirical studies of economic depreciation have found evidence of some type of accelerated economic depreciation affecting various industries, though the exact pattern varied from study to study. This report includes the impacts of accelerated depreciation schedules identified as specific to the energy sector, but excludes schedules with applicability beyond the energy sector.
Subsidized credit for energy infrastructure projects is frequently provided by export credit agencies and multilateral development banks. However, entities such as the Export-Import Bank of the United States also provide support to non-energy industries including aerospace, medical equipment, non-energy mining, and agribusiness.
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Tax-exempt municipal bonds allow publicly-owned utilities to obtain lower interest rates than those available from either private borrowers or the U.S. Treasury. However, while they are used by energy industries such as electric utilities, the group of eligible borrowers also includes water utilities, telecommunication facilities, waste treatment plants, and other publicly-owned entities.
The tax code allows a foreign tax credit for income taxes paid to foreign countries. If a multinational company is subject to a foreign country's levy, and it also receives a specific economic benefit from that foreign country, it is classified as a “dual-capacity taxpayer.” Dual-capacity taxpayers cannot claim a credit for any part of the foreign levy unless it is established that the amount paid under a distinct element of the foreign levy is a tax, rather than a compulsory payment for some direct or indirect economic benefit. Major oil companies are significant beneficiaries of this provision. However, this tax provision is also available to non-energy industries.
The tax code also provides special treatment for some publicly-traded partnerships (PTP). Section 7704 of the Code generally treats a publicly-traded partnership as a corporation for federal income tax purposes. For this purpose, a PTP is any partnership that is traded on an established securities market or secondary market. However, a notable exception to Section 7704 occurs if 90 percent of the gross income of a PTP is passive-type income, such as interest, dividends, real property rents, gains from the disposition of real property, and similar income or gains. This would include gains from natural resource sales. In these cases, the PTP is exempt from corporate level taxation, thus allowing it to claim pass-through status for tax purposes.4As with many other tax provisions, the tax treatment of PTPs is not exclusive to the energy sector.
Another potential subsidy source not addressed in this report is associated with energy-related trust funds financed by taxes and fees. Examples include the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund, the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, the Pipeline Safety Fund, the Aquatic Resources Trust Fund, the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund, the Nuclear Waste Fund, and the Uranium Enrichment Decontamination and Decommissioning Fund. By tying trust fund collections to products and activities responsible for the damages they address, the cost of programs for remediation and prevention of those damages can be reflected in the market price of energy use and production. If the fees or taxes collected by trust funds have been set appropriately, the funds will have sufficient resources to meet their obligations with the result that no subsidy is involved. However, if the fees or taxes are set too low, energy companies are receiving an implicit subsidy. These potential subsidies are not addressed in this report because of the difficulty in determining the sufficiency of the funds to meet potential liabilities and the fact that there is no direct federal budgetary impact in FY 2010.
This report also does not attempt to quantify the potential subsidy resulting from limits to liability in case of a nuclear accident provided by Section 170 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, the Price-Anderson Act. The Price-Anderson Act requires each operator of a nuclear power plant to obtain the maximum amount of primary coverage of liability insurance. Currently, the amount is about $400 million. Damages exceeding that amount would be funded with a retroactive assessment on all other firms owning commercial reactors based upon the number of reactors they own. However, Price-Anderson places a limit on the total liability to all owners of commercial reactors at about $12 billion.
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The value of direct federal financial interventions and subsidies in energy markets doubled between 2007 and 2010, growing from $17.9 billion to $37.2 billion. In broad categories, the largest increase was for conservation and end-use subsidies, followed to a lesser degree by increases in electricity-related subsidies and subsidies for fuels used outside the electricity sector (Table ES1).
A key factor in the increased support for conservation programs, end-use technologies and renewables was the passage of several pieces of legislation responding to the recent financial crisis and subsequent economic downturn, particularly the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) and the Energy Improvement and Extension Act (EIEA). Some of the ARRA-related programs that account for a large portion of the growth in subsidies and support between FY 2007 and FY 2010 (Table ES2) are temporary and the subsidies associated with them are scheduled to phase out over the next few years (see box “Energy Provisions Included in Legislation Responding to the Recent Financial Crisis”). Other recent legislation impacting energy subsidies included the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, which provided significant new subsidies to biofuels (primarily ethanol and biodiesel) producers, and the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010, which extended the sunset dates for several tax expenditure programs, as well as the grant program for qualifying renewables.
Conservation and end-use subsidies experienced rapid growth in both absolute and percentage terms, more than tripling in real terms between FY 2007 and FY 2010. The increase in subsidies and support was led by growth in direct expenditures and tax expenditures (Table ES2). The home energy efficiency improvement tax expenditure accounts for most of the increase in conservation-related subsidies between FY 2007 and FY 2010. Conservation subsidies were almost equally divided between direct expenditures and tax expenditures, with estimated tax credits for energy efficiency improvements to existing homes totaling $3.2 billion. These tax credits funded investments in energy-efficient windows, furnaces, boilers, boiler fans, and building envelope components. End-use subsidies, nearly all of which were provided through direct expenditures of appropriated funds, were boosted by a doubling of expenditures in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) spending between FY 2007 and FY 2010.5
The composition of subsidies to specific fuels and technologies in FY 2010 is significantly different than in FY 2007, reflecting the elimination of subsidies to refined coal and increases in subsidies to renewable energy due to a change in the incentive structure. The growth in subsidies for renewable fuels is primarily driven by the $4.2 billion in expenditures for grants under Section 1603 of ARRA, which went mainly to wind facilities, and by growth in federal support for biofuels. The ARRA grant program allowed investors in new qualifying facilities to choose an upfront grant in lieu of the longstanding 10-year production tax credit that was also available, but which became less attractive to developers as the market for financial instruments based on tax credit streams withered following the financial crisis. Though the two options have roughly similar value to investors and cost to the government over the life of the projects, the grant program front loads the government’s support for covered projects in the year that the grant is awarded. If the wind and solar plants that took advantage of the grant program during the financial crisis had instead utilized the production tax credit program, the subsidy value reported in FY 2010 would have been much smaller, reflecting only the credit for up to one year of generation…Tax expenditures associated with ethanol tax credits also increased significantly between FY 2007 and FY 2010 with the growth in ethanol blending activity under the Renewable Fuel Standard.
The DOE loan program, designed to support nuclear power, energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, advanced fossil fuels, electric power transmission systems, advanced technology vehicles, and leading-edge biofuels, was only in its early stages in FY 2010. The midpoint estimate of the loan subsidies was $1.6 billion in 2010. As more projects are approved, the loan subsidies associated with this program are expected to rise over time.
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Energy Provisions Included in Legislation Responding to the Recent Financial Crisis
Two laws enacted in response to the financial crisis of late 2008 and early 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) and the Energy Improvement and Extension Act (EIEA), include significant energy-related provisions.
Both bills emphasize particular segments of the energy market such as use of renewable fuels in electricity production, alternative transportation fuels, clean energy facilities, upgrading the Nation’s high voltage transmission system, energy efficiency, and conservation.
Both laws extended sunset provisions for some existing tax expenditures in addition to introducing new ones. These laws also featured provisions expanding the use of tax exempt bonds to publicly-owned energy providers. The energy-related provisions of EIEA were focused on tax expenditures. The energy-related provisions of ARRA included additional funding of existing direct expenditure, tax expenditure, and R&D programs, as well as funding for new direct expenditure, tax expenditure, and R&D programs; a new grant program available in lieu of production tax credits; and, expansion of DOE’s loan guarantee program, first established in 2005. Finally, ARRA provided the Western Area Power Administration and the Bonneville Power Administration each with $3.25 billion in new borrowing authority to expand their transmission systems to better accommodate renewable sources of electricity supply.
ARRA created, expanded, or extended programs to increase the use of clean energy and improve energy efficiency. ARRA coupled an emphasis on promoting economic recovery and job creation with investments in energy programs. While only energy-related funds expended in FY 2010 are included in this report, ARRA included appropriations of more than $35.2 billion to the Department of Energy and provided more than $21 billion in energy tax incentives. This funding focused on energy efficiency, renewable energy, and smart grid investments. ARRA also provided $6 billion, of which $3.5 billion was subsequently rescinded, to fund a loan guarantee program administered by the U.S. DOE for eligible energy projects.
ARRA’s Section 1603 energy grant program, which was designed as a supplement to existing energy production and investment tax credit programs directed at renewables, paid out $4.2 billion in FY 2010, targeted at wind (84 percent) and solar (11 percent) projects. ARRA also included additional spending on several existing direct expenditure programs. ARRA-related direct expenditures in FY 2010 totaled $8.5 billion… This included $1.5 billion to the Weatherization Assistance program, $682 million to the State Energy program, $409 million to smart grid investments, and $317 million to fund a program supporting advanced battery manufacturing. ARRA also provided $473 million in initial funding to the Conservation Block program (authorized by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA)), to deploy economical, clean, and reliable conservation technologies.
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At $3.2 billion, the Credit for Energy Efficiency Improvements to Existing Homes was the largest energy-specific tax expenditure in FY 2010 after the ethanol tax credit. Although established under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005), it was expanded under Section 302 of EIEA and amended under Section 1121 of ARRA. This credit is available to offset funds used for the installation of energy-efficient windows, furnaces, boilers, boiler fans, and building envelope components, such as exterior doors and any metal roof that has appropriate pigmented coatings.
ARRA included $0.6 billion in new R&D funding. The largest target of this funding included basic science, at $159 million, followed by non-defense uranium enrichment decontamination and decommissioning, at $139 million.
ARRA also expanded DOE’s loan guarantee authority that was first established under Section 1703 of EPAct 2005 by authorizing loan guarantees to electric power transmission systems and biofuels projects.
EIEA and ARRA both contained provisions providing significant tax benefits to issuers and holders of certain energy-related tax-exempt bonds.8EIEA provided $800 million in additional financing for Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs) and provided a one-year extension to existing CREBs. EIEA also created two new categories of CREB-like financing: New Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (New CREBs) and Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds (QECBs). Section 1111 of ARRA increased the amount of funds available to issue New CREBS from $800 million to $2.4 billion. Section 1112 of ARRA increased the amount of funds available to finance QECBs from $800 million to $2.4 billion.
The growth in energy-specific subsidies and support between FY 2007 and FY 2010 does not closely correspond to changes in energy consumption and production over the same time period. In fact, overall energy consumption actually fell from 101 quadrillion Btu to 98 quadrillion Btu between 2007 and 2010, reflecting economic conditions, while domestic energy production rose from 71 quadrillion Btu to 75 quadrillion Btu due to increasing domestic production of shale gas, crude oil, and renewable energy (Table ES3). While the overall amount of federal subsidies and support provided per unit of overall energy consumption or production has clearly grown, simply dividing the current value of subsidies by current consumption or production does not reflect either the long-run impact of imbedded subsidies and or the future impacts of current subsidies and support that may only be starting to impact energy markets. For example, increases in R&D expenditures are not reflected in the Nation’s energy mix unless and until the research leads to successful innovations that penetrate the market, a process that can take many years.
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Findings Regarding Electricity-Related Subsidies and Support
Electricity-related subsidies and support are estimated at $11.9 billion in FY 2010, up from $7.7 billion in FY 2007 (Table ES1). While fuel- and technology-related electricity subsidies grew 66 percent between FY 2007 and FY 2010, transmission and distribution system-related subsidies actually declined.
Direct expenditures accounted for 39 percent of total electricity-related subsidies in FY 2010 (Table ES4). These expenditures were mostly the result of the ARRA Section 1603 grant program, 84-percent of which went to wind generation. As noted, the relatively high value for this program stems from the fact that the grant program places all of the costs in the year that a project is initiated, while the existing production tax credit that the grant substituted for spread the costs of the tax credit over the first 10 years of a project's operation. If developers return to using the production tax credit in the future, the first-year costs for each project will be much lower.
Tax expenditures comprise over 28 percent of the total subsidies and support related to electricity production. Renewables accounted for 40 percent of all electricity-related tax expenditures in FY 2010, mostly due to the Sections 45 and 48 production and investment tax credits which predominantly went to wind facilities. A nuclear decommissioning–related tax credit accounted for $908 million in tax expenditures.
Research and development accounted for 22 percent of the total subsidies and support to the electric power sector. Nuclear accounted for the highest level of R&D expenditures at $1,169 million, followed by renewables at $632 million, and coal at $575 million.
Federal electricity support to federal utilities and participants in the Rural Utilities Service loan programs in the form of explicit and implicit loan guarantees are estimated at approximately $648 million in FY 2010. The level of this support is largely a function of the value of outstanding debt and prevailing interest rates.
Relative to their share of total electricity generation, renewables received a large share of direct federal subsidies and support in FY 2010. For example, renewable fuels accounted for 10.3 percent of total generation, while they received 55.3 percent of federal subsidies and support (Tables ES4 and ES5). However, caution should be used when making such calculations because many factors can drive the results. For example, many of the programs that showed the largest increases in subsidies between FY 2007 and FY 2010 are supporting facilities that are still under construction, including energy equipment manufacturing facilities that may not affect energy consumption or production for several years. Furthermore, the ARRA 1603 grant program, that allows investors to choose an upfront grant instead of a 10-year production tax credit, tended to lead to much higher overall electricity subsidy estimates for renewables in FY 2010 than would have occurred had they continued to rely on the existing production tax credit program, which does not front-load subsidy costs. Focusing on a single year's data also does not capture the imbedded effects of subsidies that may have occurred over many years across all energy fuels and technologies.
Among the specific fuels and technologies, wind plants received the largest share of direct federal subsidies and support in FY 2010, accounting for 42 percent of total electricity-related subsidies. While the share of electricity-related subsidies and support received by wind and solar technologies is disproportionate to their generation share, their generation has increased dramatically in the last decade. Wind generation in 2010 is nearly 16 times the level achieved in 2000 (Table ES5). While natural gas-fired capacity additions have dominated for most of the last 15 years, wind generating capacity additions have also ramped up substantially in recent years (Figure ES1).
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Findings Regarding Subsidies and Support For Fuels Used Outside of the Electricity Sector
Biofuels receive most of the subsidies and support for fuels used outside the electricity sector. Based on the subsidy categories used in this report, subsidies and support for fuels used outside the electricity sector, at $10.4 billion, accounted for 28 percent of total energy subsidies. In this category, biomass and biofuels received the largest subsidy in FY 2010, at $7.6 billion (Table ES6). Under the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC), blenders receive a $0.45-per gallon credit for each gallon of ethanol that is blended with gasoline for use as a motor fuel… Internal Revenue Service regulations require that blenders apply for VEETC refunds to offset gasoline excise tax payments, but they may submit a claim for payment or take a credit against other taxes if their VEETC credits exceed their gasoline excise tax liability. Based on its implementation rules, the Treasury reports VEETC as a $5.7-billion reduction in excise tax revenues for FY 2010. For purposes of this report, VEETC is classified as tax expenditure.
Natural gas and petroleum liquids also received significant subsidies and support for fuels used outside the electricity sector. They accounted for 20.7 percent of the fuel specific subsidies and support and, together with biofuels, accounted for nearly 94 percent of the subsidies and support going to fuels not supporting electricity…