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Tax Incentives
Under the current tax code, the most favored investment is drilling for oil and gas. Development of natural gas and oil from domestic reserves helps to make our country more self sufficient by reducing our dependence on foreign imports so Congress provides tax incentives to stimulate this production by private sources. Many investments, which were previously thought of as tax shelters were reclassified under the Tax Reform Act of 1986 as “passive” activities (a business in which the taxpayer does not actively participate). The significant exception to this rule is drilling for oil and natural gas. It is specifically stated as NOT being a passive activity.

So what does this mean to you?

It means that as an investor in oil and gas drilling, one would have significant tax write offs. The first and largest write off is the Intangible Drilling Costs (IDC). Intangible Drilling Costs are expenses that are incurred during the drilling and developing of a well such as labor, testing, geological studies etc. Equipment, however, is excluded, as it is tangible. Usually 70-80% of the investment pays for intangible drilling costs and these can be written off in the year that they occur. Tangible Costs include well equipment and is depreciated over a 7 year period.

As each project and each company is structured differently, please see your personal tax advisors to see how these apply to your particular situation.

India close to solar energy breakthrough

SOLAR cells used to tap energy from the sun are made up of photovoltaic substances such as silicon which, when combined with suitable additives and exposed to sunlight, produce electricity. Extracting crystalline silicon from the compounds in which it is found is highly energy-intensive and the element itself accounts for upto 50 per cent of the total cost of producing photovoltaic systems. Crystalline silicon for photovoltaic applications costs about Rs 1500 (US $50) per kg in the global market. A little over 25 gms of monocrystalline wafers is required to produce one watt of electricity.

Amorphous silicon has a lower silicon content and costs half as much as crystalline silicon to produce because of its non-crystalline form. The Japanese have extensively used amorphous silicon cells in solar-powered calculators and watches.

The Department of Non-conventional Energy Sources (DNES) has been exploring the use of amorphous silicon technology to reduce the cost of photovoltaic solar cells. Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), Bangalore division, was assigned the task of establishing a plant to produce amorphous silicon solar cells and set up one at Gurgaon, Haryana, which was commissioned in July 1992. The Rs 16-crore plant produces amorphous silicon solar cells equivalent to 500 kwp (kilowatt peak output of electricity) per shift and has an annual capacity to produce 300 kg of Silane gas, an essential raw material. During pre-commissioning runs, the plant produced over 2000 modules of solar cells with different process parameters. Efficiencies of converting solar energy into electricity exceeding 7 per cent were achieved on individual cells in the modules.

According to R K D Shah, Executive Director (corporate planning and development), BHEL, "At present the production of amorphous silicon photovoltaic cells is still in an experimental stage. Though the potential applications are many, amorphous silicon cells are still being tested and tried in various systems and applications."

Scientists at BHEL say that amorphous silicon cells have half the efficiency of crystalline silicon cells but they cost less than half as much. According to Praveen Saxena, principal scientific officer, DNES, the cost of monocrystalline silicon, used in large-scale applications, is about Rs 225 per watt, while that of amorphous silicon, as yet used only in small systems, is Rs 150 per watt. According to BHEL sources, amorphous silicon cells produced in very large quantities can bring down the cost of solar panels to Rs 60 per peak watt.

Research in India has focused on increasing the efficiency of amorphous silicon, which is also unstable and loses efficiency at high temperatures.

Efficiency levels of over 12 per cent have been achieved by the Bangalore unit of BHEL. It has produced solar cells of 10 cm diameter which have achieved upto 14.3 per cent efficiency -- the highest achieved in the country so far. The conversion efficiency of photovoltaic devices in the international market is around 17.5 per cent.

Work on photovoltaic solar cells began in India as early as October 1980, when the Central Electronics Limited, Sahibabad, was established to produce monocrystalline silicon cells.

A separate technology mission was, therefore, set up for the development of amorphous silicon technology in the seventh plan. Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao, who has taken particular interest in solar energy development, asserted in Parliament, "We are at the point of achieving a breakthrough in commercial applications of photovoltaic technology."

S Mehrotra, an official at BHEL, says, "When we started working on the amorphous silicon technology, we were perhaps 15 to 20 years behind the developed countries. But now we have definitely closed the gap."


Green Mountain Coffee Roasters going solar

WATERBURY, Vt.—Green Mountain Coffee Roasters is hoping to cut its electric bill with a major solar power installation set for spring.

The Waterbury-based company plans to put 530 solar panels on top of its distribution center in a partnership with Green Mountain Power Corp., and White River Junction-based groSolar.

The project is expected to produce electricity equivalent to what it takes to run 16 houses year-round.

Paul Comey, the coffee roaster's vice president of environmental affairs, says the company sometimes draws up to a megawatt of electricity.

The project is getting helped along by a $250,000 grant from the state's Clean Energy Development Fund.


Information from: WCAX-TV, http://www.wcax.com