The EPAct Tax Opportunity of Los Angeles Parking Garages
By population Los Angeles is America's second largest city. However, as compared to the other top four population cities namely New York, Chicago, and Houston, Los Angeles is a city of car owners that drive everywhere and frequently park in parking garages both for work and non work activities. Parking garage lighting retrofits provide one of the best economic opportunities for energy cost savings and EPAct tax savings.
Los Angeles Population Urban Geography ComparisonThe four largest U.S city populations to geography comparison illustrates why automobiles are the most common mode of transportation in Los Angeles as presented below.
Los Angeles Leads in Combined Urban/Suburban Parking Garage DensityLos Angles leads the world in parking garage density. In a detailed abstract from the Journal of Urban Planning and Development entitled Parking, People and Cities , Michael Manville and Donald devoted a substantial portion of the large volume of Los Angeles region parking garages, The attached chart presented in Manville and Shoup’s article illustrates this point:
Parking in the Central Business Districts (CBD)
In the United States the automobile requirements consume close to half of the land area in cities. In Los Angeles the percentage approaches two thirds. Moreover, the LA suburbs are much denser than typical U.S. cities. Mansville and Shoup describe the phenomenon,
“The density of LA’s suburbs is fully 74 percent of that in its central city. In New York and San Francisco, density plummets outside the central city. Suburban New York has only 12% of the density of its central city, while suburban San Francisco has just 35%. Los Angeles is a dense city in a very dense region, while New York and San Francisco are very dense cities in less dense regions.”
The Tax OpportunityPursuant to Section 179D of EPAct and its underlying ASHRAE (American Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air Conditioning) building energy code, commercial buildings are eligible for energy efficiency tax deductions of up to $1.80 per square foot. If a building’s energy reducing investment doesn’t qualify for the full $1.80 per square foot deduction, then deductions are available for any of the three major sub-systems, including:
2. HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning).
3. The building envelope.
Each component can qualify for up to 60 cents per square foot in EPAct tax deductions. The building envelope is anything on the perimeter of the building that touches the outside world including roof, walls, windows, doors, the foundation and related insulation layers.
IRS Notice 2008-40 Sec. 6 specifically references parking garages as an eligible building category for Section 179D tax deductions. Due to the unique aspects of parking garages, these deductions are usually limited to $0.60 per square foot for lighting. In order to qualify for the tax deduction, the lighting system must exceed the efficiency set by ASHRAE.
Los Angeles has a full range of parking garages eligible for both the commercial and government designer parking garage EPAct tax savings. The opportunities are as follows:
Under current law, EPAct parking garage deductions are available for both new and existing building lighting projects completed between January 1, 2006 and December 31, 2013.
Capturing Previously Missed Tax DeductionsIn January of 2011 IRS issued Revenue Procedure 2011. This is a very beneficial announcement allowing tax payers who previously missed their EPAct tax deduction to pick up the missed deductions and report it on a current tax return.
The Three Major Lighting TechnologiesThe three major parking garage lighting technologies currently used to achieve energy cost reduction and obtain large EPAct tax deductions are:
• Induction lighting
Each of the three major parking garage lighting technology alternatives have strengths and weakness that need to be evaluated. Items to consider include investment price point, utility rebates, building environment, lighting performance, operating costs, lamp life, warranties, dimming characteristics, and maintenance costs.
Fluorescent Lighting and EPAct 179DTo date, fluorescent lighting, utilizing T-8 and T-5 lamps, has been the most common product selection for energy efficient lighting. With fluorescent lighting conversions, density of fixture layout is critical to minimizing energy use and maximizing EPAct tax incentives. Without attention to design, we see some projects that miss tax deductions or only achieve partial tax deduction. Fluorescent installations generally have the lowest installed price point of the three major lighting technologies.
LED Lighting and EPAct 179DLED or Light Emitting Diode lighting is moving quickly into the parking garage marketplace. There are many competing vendors and garage owners need to research and compare product offerings. Due to the low wattage level, most LED parking garage projects qualify for the maximum EPAct tax deduction. However, some projects are right on the edge of eligibility so it is important to have an EPAct-knowledgeable reviewer make the calculation.
Induction Lighting and EPAct 179DIn an interesting market development, induction lighting — although available in the U.S. for over ten years — is enjoying high growth in the parking garage market albeit from a relatively small installed base. Now that parking garage owners have two distinct product alternatives in fluorescent and LED lighting, they seem to be more open to compare and contrast a third lighting alternative. Induction tends to have a price point in between fluorescent and LED and has its own particular attributes warranting evaluation. Induction lighting is actually fluorescent lighting without electrodes and is sometimes called electrode-less discharge lighting.
Utility RebatesIt is crucial to understand how different utility rebate processes work with the different lighting technologies. Many utilities offer two types of rebates: prescriptive and custom.
Prescriptive rebates are a fixed amount per product such as $30 per fluorescent fixture. Prescriptive rebates are common with high volume mature product categories because utilities are thoroughly familiar with the product’s energy performance results. Accordingly most utilities offer fluorescent rebates based on a prescribed amount available from a prescribed table or listing.
Custom rebates are tailored or customized to the product’s expected performance and are normally calculated based on the electricity expected to be saved. Hence, custom rebates for electricity-based products are sometimes called kW (kilowatt) rebates. Many utilities are not yet familiar or supportive of LED and induction lighting products, so the exclusive rebate opportunity may be a custom rebate.
Since LED and induction lighting is low wattage lighting, a probing into a custom rebate may lead to a dialogue resulting in a much higher overall rebate than the typical prescriptive process.
Banned LightingMany parking garages still have mainstream prior generation energy inefficient metal halide and T-12 lighting. As of January 1, 2009, probe start metal halides are illegal to manufacture in their most common wattage categories. T-12 magnetic ballasts are now illegal to manufacture as of July 1, 2010. As replacement costs for these banned items increases, parking garage owners will naturally retrofit to one of the three efficient technologies.
Commercial Garages and EPAct 179DThere are a wide variety of commercial garages where either the garage owner or a tenant/garage management firm can obtain the EPAct tax deduction benefit depending on who paid for the energy efficient lighting. Typical commercial garage owners include commercial city garages, commercial airport garages, apartment buildings, office buildings, department stores, hotels, and casinos.
Government-Owned Garages under EPAct 179DWith government-owned garages, the design team is entitled to the EPAct tax deduction. For tax purposes, a designer can be an architect, engineer, lighting designer, design and build contractor or an ESCO (Energy Services Company). It is important to note that by statute, the tax beneficiary is the designer and not the government entity. The government owner reaps the larger economic benefit, which is the permanent perpetual energy cost reduction. The parking garage lighting designer or design team earns a onetime tax incentive for designing an energy efficient facility. Some of the largest government owned garage categories include municipal, state universities, and airports.
Act NowThe economic payback is so compelling that parking garages throughout the country are moving quickly to capture the combined energy savings, utility rebates and the large EPAct tax savings related to parking garage lighting retrofits. Large multi-site garage owners that may be resource constrained for retrofitting all garages at once should be planning to have lighting retrofits completed on or before December 31, 2013. The overall economics are too lucrative to justify delay, and financing is available that actually further enhances the economic return.
Manville, Michael, and Donald Shoup. "Parking, People, and Cities." Journal of Urban Planning and Development. (December 2005): Print.
Manville, Michael, and Donald Shoup. "Parking, People and Cities." Journal of Urban Planning and Development. (2005): Table 5., Page 243. Print.
Manville, Michael, and Donald Shoup. "Parking, People and Cities." Journal of Urban Planning and Development. (2005): Page 238. Print.