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Solar Advocates Hopeful On Tax Breaks Implementation

Advocates are hopeful they’ll see legislation implementing tax breaks on solar energy pass the legislature this session. But they’re not happy with different parts of the House and Senate bills.

Amendment 4 stops cities and counties from raking in more taxes on homes or businesses because of a solar power instillation. Under the Senate’s implementation proposal, Florida residents would get a 100 percent tax break on the improved value of their house if they buy or lease a renewable energy instillation. Owners of commercial and industrial property would get an 80 percent tax break and it would be the same for tangible personal property.

Credit Lance Cheung

Susan Glickman of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said the legislation originally called for everyone to get a 100 percent tax exemption and argues the changes will hurt people who install solar systems.

“It would raise the price of solar and it would also be an incredible paperwork nightmare for solar contractors because you would have to have different templates for each of 67 counties in Florida who have differing tax rates,” she said.

But bill sponsor Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said he reduced the tax break from 100 percent to 80 percent to help cities and counties recoup some property tax revenue.

“Our goal here is to encourage solar power, our goal here is to encourage even large-scale solar farms so that most of us will benefit from large-scale solar farms and the incentive that we’re offering is an 80 percent reduction in both tangible personal property and al valorem taxes,” he said.

A legislative analysis shows the tax break will eventually reduce local tax revenue by more than $54 million every year. It will also reduce taxes to electric utilities.

Glickman also dislikes the disclosure requirements in the House legislation sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Fort Myers. She said the requirements impose barriers to companies that finance or install solar systems.

Rodrigues said his measure protects consumers. But he admits the legislation uses some language from a draft proposal by Florida Power and Light, which opposed the amendment. Rodrigues’ plan requires solar contractors give buyers several written disclosures like a payment schedule, whether the solar equipment is being bought or leased and a description of the assumptions used to calculate energy savings. The disclosures must be typed in at least 12 point-sized font and violators can be fined.

Bill Gallagher of the company Solar-Fit said it’s premature to start worrying about problems in Florida’s solar industry. He said he’s been in business for more than 40 years with no complaints and believes the House measure is punitive.

“My concern, what I want to bring forward today is the penalty clause," he said. "As I was reading through this, the penalty clause could be the price of the solar system. So, If I have the wrong font size or something like that, we could be penalized $20,000, $40,000. I just don’t think that, you know, that is correct.”

Glickman said she believes the Senate bill will win out in the legislature. She said Floridians expect lawmakers to implement what the voters approved.

“We just want to respect the will of the voters, we want to open up the markets to solar in Florida by removing barriers so people can enjoy the resource of the sun,” she said.

Senator Brandes said he’ll spend this weekend negotiating with Rodrigues to get a compromise bill. If signed into law, the tax breaks would start January 1 and extend until December 31, 2037.

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