Biden Administration Finalizes Tax Rules for Nonprofits in Clean Energy Push


by Eric Lam - Published 3/5/2024


The Biden administration announced on Tuesday the finalization of tax rules that enable nonprofits, including schools and local governments, to receive federal funds for constructing and operating low-carbon energy projects.

This initiative, heralded as a significant aspect of the Inflation Reduction Act, aims to propel clean energy deployment, particularly in historically disadvantaged areas. However, tax professionals have pointed out that the Treasury Department has maintained certain credit restrictions that some nonprofits fear could curtail their eligibility for incentives, potentially affecting renewable and electric vehicle projects.

Why Does It Matter?

Historically, nonprofits have been unable to leverage many tax code provisions that have facilitated the decarbonization of the U.S. economy due to their tax-exempt status. The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act introduced a solution termed "direct pay," allowing nonprofits that establish low-carbon projects, such as solar and wind farms, to receive payments covering up to 30% of the project's value. The Biden administration anticipates that this program could channel billions of dollars in rebates to tax-exempt organizations, including tribes, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and power cooperatives.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm emphasized the transformative potential of these direct payments, stating, "For the first-time ever nonprofits, from hospitals to food banks, can amplify their impacts thanks to direct payments for installing clean energy technologies using every dollar saved to reinvest in crucial community services."

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen highlighted the role of direct pay and another new program called "transferability" in enhancing the value of incentives for deploying new clean power and manufacturing clean energy components, calling them "force multipliers" that bring governments and nonprofits to the clean energy table for the first time.

These tax credits are seen as a boon to the U.S. economy, with a significant portion of clean energy investments post-Inflation Reduction Act being made in economically challenged regions. According to the Treasury Department, 86% of these investments have occurred in counties with below-average college graduation rates, and 78% in counties with below-average median household incomes.

The Opportunity

The administration's efforts extend beyond clean energy to semiconductor production, with finalized rules for direct pay eligibility in this area as well. Additionally, a proposed regulation would allow entities co-owning renewable energy projects to opt out of partnership tax status, thereby accessing direct pay.

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) expressed support for the new rules, emphasizing their potential to reduce carbon emissions and promote domestic chip manufacturing. Meanwhile, critics, particularly from the Republican party, argue that the Inflation Reduction Act disproportionately benefits clean energy entrepreneurs and affluent electric vehicle owners, calling for its repeal.

Administrative Challenges Ahead

Tax experts caution that the rules could impose significant administrative and legal burdens on nonprofits unfamiliar with navigating the tax code. The limitation on direct pay eligibility for partnerships, a common structure for large investment projects, has raised concerns about the potential complexities and resource requirements for nonprofits.

Despite these challenges, the initiative represents a historic step toward enabling a broader range of organizations to contribute to the U.S. transition to clean energy, offering new opportunities for investment and community service through clean technology.


  1. What do the new tax rules involve?
    • The rules allow nonprofits to receive federal payments for up to 30% of the cost of low-carbon energy projects like solar and wind farms.
  2. Who benefits from these rules?
    • Tax-exempt organizations, including schools, local governments, tribes, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and power cooperatives, benefit from these rules.
  3. Why are these rules important?
    • They aim to accelerate clean energy deployment in the U.S., especially in disadvantaged areas, by enabling nonprofits to invest in green projects.
  4. What is the concern with the new rules?
    • Some tax experts worry that restrictions could limit nonprofits' eligibility for incentives, making it challenging for them to participate in renewable energy projects.
  5. What does direct pay mean?
    • Direct pay is a provision that allows nonprofits to directly receive federal funds for a portion of their clean energy project costs, bypassing the need for tax credits.