Environment

Solar tax breaks coming to Florida

On Tuesday, the state’s primary voters approved an amendment to make solar equipment cheaper.
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31 Ago 2016 – 1:28 PM EDT

Floridians voted overwhelmingly Tuesday in favor of a proposal that aims to make it more affordable for businesses across the state to install solar panels.

With more than 70 percent of the vote, Amendment 4 will now become part of the state’s constitution, making it so that home and business owners no longer have to pay additional taxes when property values increase because of solar equipment. There's already such a policy in place for some homeowners; this measure expands it.

The amendment also exempts taxes on equipment passed on by leasing companies.

The bipartisan measure was placed on the ballot by the Florida legislature in the spring, and supported by a wide range of groups, including the Florida Retail Federation, the Nature Conservancy, the Christian Coalition and Conservatives for Energy Freedom.

Grassroots advocates lauded it as a huge first step toward the use of renewables in the Sunshine State. Currently, Florida doesn’t even make the list of the top 10 states when it comes to solar capacity. Less than a tenth of one percent of energy is being generated by solar. The state ranks third in the nation for rooftop solar potential, but 14th for solar installed.

The state is facing another solar vote in November, on the general election ballot. That ballot initiative, Amendment 1, focuses on who can sell solar infrastructure and is much more contentious.

In Florida, consumers who want to get solar are now forced to rely on the state’s big utility companies. Actually, Florida is one of the only states that requires solar to be sold exclusively by utilities.

In many states, consumers have the option to purchase from among hundreds of companies that install rooftop solar panels at a low cost. Those companies lease rooftop solar equipment to homeowners and bill them monthly for the electricity created, which lets people enter the market for little or no money down and pay as they go. As a result of such policies in California, solar installations are increasingly located in predominantly moderate-income neighborhoods.

An initiative called Floridians for Solar Choice sought to introduce an amendment to change the rules in Florida, allowing businesses other than utilities to sell solar power to consumers, like exists in California and other states. But the initiative did not receive enough signatures to appear on the ballot before the end of the year.

Instead, a competing amendment backed by Florida’s utilities will appear in November. Amendment 1 would write into the state constitution the current rules on who can sell solar (in other words, just the utilities), making it so that third parties cannot sell solar to customers.

The campaign for that amendment, Consumers for Smart Solar, has raised over $16 million. It’s supported primarily by the state’s utilities, including Florida Power & Light Co, Tampa Electric Co and Duke Energy Florida.

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