Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) are two proposed investment vehicles that have the potential to lower the high cost of capital for renewable energy assets—a critical factor in the U.S.Department of Energy’s goal for renewable energy to achieve grid-parity with traditional sources of electric generation. Due to current U.S. federal income tax laws, regulations, and administrative interpretations, REITs and MLPs cannot finance a significant portion of the cost of renewable energy assets. Efforts are underway to alter these rules by changing the definition of “real property” (REIT) and “qualified income” (MLP). However, even with rule changes, both investment vehicles have structural challenges to efficiently finance renewable energy assets. Among them are (1) effectively utilizing the U.S. federal income tax incentives; (2) administratively structuring the investments to not be overly onerous or complicated, given the potential for pooling a relatively large amount of small assets; and (3) attracting and retaining a large enough investment community to participate in the funding opportunities. This report summarizes these challenges so that if proposed federal changes are made, stakeholders have an understanding of the possible outcomes.
The first section of this report summarizes current MLP and REIT markets and proposed rule changes. The second and third sections detail challenges to financing renewable energy assets with REITs and MLPs, respectively. Finally, the fourth section discusses possible investor responses to a renewable energy REIT or MLP.