Florida Lawmakers poised to carry out solar amendment

Source: By Jim Turner, News Service of Florida • Posted: Friday, May 5, 2017

Neil Black works on the installation of South Floridaâs largest solar panel array atop the future IKEA store in Miami, Wednesday, April 16, 2014.
Neil Black works on the installation of South Florida’s largest solar panel array atop the future IKEA store in Miami, Wednesday, April 16, 2014. J Pat Carter AP

Solar energy backers are supporting a “good enough” measure that would carry out a decision by voters to expand a renewable-energy tax break.

After the measure (SB 90) got unanimous support Wednesday from the House, the Senate is expected as early as Thursday to approve the bill, which outlines implementation of a constitutional amendment approved in August.

If approved by the Senate, the bill would then go to Gov. Rick Scott.

The constitutional amendment, which received support from 72.6 percent of voters during the August primary elections, calls for extending a renewable-energy tax break to commercial and industrial properties.

The tax break would be in place for 20 years and is an extension of a break already provided to residential properties. A selling point of the constitutional amendment was that it said all renewable-energy equipment would be exempt from state tangible personal property taxes.

Some solar-energy backers initially were concerned about the House’s approach to carrying out the constitutional amendment and favored a proposal by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.

But the House and Senate moved closer on the issues, and House members voted Wednesday to approve the bill.

Rep. Lori Berman, a Lantana Democrat who helped sponsor last year’s constitutional amendment, said in a prepared statement that she has “serious concerns with some of the provisions” included in the bill approved Wednesday.

“I believe that Senator Brandes’ original conforming bill would have been a better solution, but I am not prepared to wait any longer for Floridians to have the ability to access solar,” Berman said.

House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, an Estero Republican who has spearheaded the issue in the House, amended the bill on Tuesday to further define a number of “renewable energy source devices” and to require some industry “disclosure” language on leased residential panels when financed by installers.

The changes require the bill to return to the Senate, which voted 34-0 on April in support of its version.

To bring the House and Senate bills closer together, Brandes added a provision that would allow local governments to tax up to 20 percent of the property attributable to a renewable energy source device.

Brandes said allowing governments to collect any amount of taxes could help rural counties pursue large solar farms.

“It’s a lot more for these small communities, and they have an incentive to participate [in solar],” Brandes said. “The problem is, if you gave them zero [percent] then they had no incentive to go through the zoning changes and everything else.”

Scott Thomasson, southeast director of the advocacy group Vote Solar, credited Rodrigues and Brandes for working with the solar industry on the bill.

“Most of the industry would have preferred the consumer protections to be handled separately and for 100 percent exemptions for rooftops,” Thomasson said. “But this is a good enough bill where everybody can continue to build the market in Florida and we’re not going to miss a year.”

Others have been saying the measure isn’t perfect but is a vast improvement on Rodrigues’ earlier proposal (HB 1351), which included a controversial provision that would have allowed the state Public Service Commission to set safety, performance and reliability standards.

Backers of the constitutional amendment expressed concern that the commission oversight would give the state’s energy giants, including Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy, some control of the solar industry.