Fla. voters OK plan to strike taxes on renewable projects

Source: Kristi E. Swartz, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, September 1, 2016

Florida voters yesterday overwhelmingly approved a measure that removes taxes on renewable energy projects for commercial property, paving the way for solar expansion in the Sunshine State.

Roughly 73 percent of voters signed off on Amendment 4, which removes ad valorem, or value-based, taxes on renewable energy projects for commercial property. This would lower the overall cost of those projects for businesses, including the state’s electric companies.

Lawmakers, clean energy advocates and business groups immediately released statements praising the vote.

“The strong showing of support for Amendment 4 sends a clear message to elected officials at all levels of government that Florida voters want more diversity in our energy market,” said state Sen. Jeff Brandes (R).

Brandes sponsored the bills that created Amendment 4. Florida’s majority-Republican Legislature historically has blocked clean energy initiatives, but this year, lawmakers unanimously passed the bills.

He and two other state lawmakers — Reps. Ray Rodrigues (R) and Lori Berman (D) — formed Florida for Solar Inc., a 501(c)(4) organization, in April to raise money to campaign for the amendment.

Florida constitutional amendments require a 60 percent supermajority for approval. What’s more, Amendment 4 was on the back of the ballot, which made it likely that many voters would not see the language or would just skip it.

This made the high voter approval all the more significant.

“The outpouring of support for Amendment 4 signals a strong desire among Florida voters to put the Sunshine State’s most abundant energy resource to work,” said Scott Thomasson, director of new markets at Vote Solar, a group promoting solar energy in the Southeast.

The amendment must go back to the Legislature to implement the changes.

As in most of the Southeast, solar is a polarizing issue in Florida. The state gets most of its electricity from natural gas, and the portion of energy generated from gas stands to increase with a major pipeline in the works.

The tax abatement amendment is one tool that could help boost renewable energy, particularly rooftop solar, at businesses, advocates say.

“The voters have made it clear that they support distributed solar in Florida,” said Mike Antheil, board member of the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association.

But whether distributed, or rooftop, solar actually flourishes hinges on other key policy decisions in the coming months. The first is a separate ballot measure for rooftop solar that will go before voters in November. The second is what else the Legislature does next year.

Amendment 1 solidifies that consumers can buy or lease solar panels. But it gives local and state governments the right to ensure that non-solar customers aren’t saddled with higher costs for maintaining the grid.

This means that if this amendment passes, tariffs and fees are likely to follow for rooftop solar customers.

Florida’s electric companies have put millions of dollars behind Amendment 1. Even while celebrating last night’s solar victory, clean energy advocates wasted no time pushing their own social media campaign to defeat that measure.

“It is very simple if you love #solar it is NO in NOv #NoOn1,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, on Twitter.

The state Legislature also is expected to entertain a bill that would make changes to the net-metering policy. Details are unclear, but the bill likely would leave it up to the state Public Service Commission to implement the changes (EnergyWire, July 12).