Powering Sustainability: Overcoming GST Obstacles in India’s Renewable Energy Landscape

The global renewable energy sector is currently experiencing unprecedented growth, driven by a combination of environmental concerns and technological advancements. As sustainability takes center stage, countries worldwide are increasingly shifting their focus towards clean energy sources like solar, wind, and hydropower. Declining technology costs in the renewable energy sector have made clean energy solutions economically competitive. India, as an exemplary case, has set ambitious targets, aiming to achieve 500 GW of non-fossil fuel-based power generation capacity by the year 2030.

However, the remarkable expansion of India’s renewable energy sector has brought forth intricate tax challenges, primarily due to the complexities of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime. The GST intricacies impact both the output and input aspects of businesses operating in the renewable energy sector. While electricity itself is exempt from GST, various supplies related to renewable energy projects are subject to this tax, thereby influencing project cost structures. Previous tax exemptions designed to promote clean energy have transitioned into the GST regime, maintaining reduced rates for renewable energy equipment. Nevertheless, the implementation journey, particularly concerning supplies for solar power generating systems (SPGS), has encountered numerous challenges and fluctuations.

The article sheds light on the intricate interplay between the GST regime and India’s burgeoning renewable energy sector. As transaction structures continue to evolve and businesses strive for tax optimization, it becomes paramount to ensure that documentation aligns seamlessly with practical implementation, especially within the realm of solar power generators and associated components.

Transaction Structures and GST Optimization

Diverse transaction structures have emerged in an attempt to streamline the application of GST within the power generation sector, with the primary goal of cost minimization. One such strategy involves the implementation of separate contracts for goods and services, effectively reducing the GST rate below the mandated 70:30 ratio as per legislation. However, it’s crucial to note that a recent trend has imposed restrictions on concessional rate benefits, primarily applying to supplies falling under Chapters 84, 85, and 94 of the GST Tariff Act, especially in the context of renewable energy projects. These developments highlight the ever-evolving nature of tax planning within the renewable energy sector, emphasizing the imperative for businesses to remain well-informed and compliant with the continually changing GST provisions.

EPC Contracts

Renewable energy projects encounter a significant taxation challenge when utilizing the prevalent Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) approach. According to GST legislation, EPC contracts that entail a composite supply resulting in immovable property are categorized as works contracts, subjecting them to an 18% GST rate. This classification can have a substantial impact on project cost structures, making it imperative for the effective management of tax liabilities.

GST Valuation Mechanism

To address high taxes on renewable energy supplies, the government introduced a valuation mechanism, applying a 5% GST on 70% of the total contract value as goods and an 18% GST on the remaining 30% as services. This mechanism seeks to strike a balance between tax rates for renewable energy supplies.

Lack of Precise Definitions

One enduring challenge within the GST framework for the renewable energy sector is the absence of precise definitions, which in turn, contributes to a sense of uncertainty. This lack of clear criteria for categorizing devices within lower tax brackets can result in diverse interpretations among stakeholders. A recent ruling by the Madhya Pradesh High Court under the value-added tax (VAT) regime provided much-needed clarity by stipulating that all goods related to power evacuation and transformation from renewable sources are eligible for benefits. However, it remains crucial to establish similar clarity within the GST framework, particularly in light of the introduction of new taxes and potential interpretations that might restrict these benefits to power generation systems rather than encompassing subsequent processes.

Changing GST Rates and Terminology

During the 45th GST Council Meeting held on September 17, 2021, a proposal was tabled to raise the GST rate from 5% to 12% for specific renewable energy devices and their associated parts. Consequently, this proposal triggered a modification in terminology, shifting from ‘Solar Power Generating System’ to ‘Solar Power Generator’ (SPG), which introduced ambiguity regarding the precise definition of an ‘SPG’ due to the absence of an industry-standard framework. Adding to the complexity, there’s a notable absence of explicit guidance regarding the components encompassed within the SPG category. While a straightforward interpretation encompasses all components involved in converting solar energy into electricity, the crux of the matter hinges on how authorities choose to interpret and apply this terminology change, further complicating the situation.

Composite Supplies vs. Mixed Supply

In certain transaction structures, there’s an assertion that the supplies for Solar Power Generating Systems (SPGS) or Solar Power Generators (SPG) within renewable energy projects should be classified as composite supplies. Under this classification, the primary supply would typically involve solar modules, which are subject to either a 5% or 12% GST rate. However, a concern arises as this particular structure could potentially be categorized as mixed supplies, thereby attracting a higher 18% GST rate. This distinction between composite and mixed supplies introduces added complexity to the GST landscape within the renewable energy sector. Consequently, businesses must meticulously structure their contracts and documentation to ensure their intended tax treatment is achieved and avoid any unintended tax consequences.

Documentation and Compliance

During audits or assessments, it is imperative for businesses to provide concrete evidence supporting their chosen GST optimization structure. This involves aligning the documentation they possess with the actual implementation of their tax strategy. By doing so, businesses not only ensure compliance with relevant regulations but also proactively prevent potential issues that may arise during official inspections or reviews.

Swift resolution of tax-related issues holds paramount importance, not only for India’s “Make in India” and “ease of doing business” initiatives but also for bolstering the country’s global ambition to lead in renewable energy. Timely resolution acts as a catalyst for achieving national renewable energy targets, stimulating economic growth, and consolidating a prominent position for India in the global clean energy landscape. As the renewable energy sector expands, it’s imperative for stakeholders to remain agile and adapt to the ever-evolving GST regulations to ensure continued success and sustainability.