Solar bills falter in Legislature while ballot initiative rolls on

4-8-15 Brandes

With a solar energy constitutional amendment proposed for the 2016 ballot, a pair of bills designed to provide tax savings for residents who install solar on their homes appears dead in the 2015 Legislative Session.

SB 400 by Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg, would provide a ballot measure to extend a residential property tax exemption for renewable energy, as already is provided in the state Constitution, to commercial property. SB 402 is an implementing bill, also filed by Brandes.

Both bills passed their first committee stops on March 10 but then they quit moving with three committee stops to go. The House companion bills also stalled after passing their first committee stops.

“I think by this point in session that whatever tax cuts (pass) have already been decided,” Brandes said this week. “And I don’t think that my solar bills are on the tax cuts the list this year.”

He dismissed a question about whether the financial and political influence of utilities may have prevented the bills from being heard in committees.

“I think there actually was a lot of support for this bill, both bills,” Brandes said. “It would have helped everybody.”

Meanwhile, the ballot measure proposed by Floridians for Solar Choice has collected enough signatures for Florida Supreme Court review. The measure says the state’s policy is to promote local, small-scale solar energy production and prohibit barriers to solar energy.

A panel of state analysts called the Financial Impact Estimating Conference is holding a public workshop Friday to review the proposal.

Brandes echoed conservative critics, such as Americans for Prosperity-Florida and the James Madison Institute, in saying that the ballot measure favors solar over other forms of energy.

But when told that the amendment primarily calls for removing barriers to solar, Brandes responded, “What does that mean?”

“Does it mean we should support it (solar) over nuclear?” he said. “We should support it over wind? We should support it over everything else? You know, when the government has to support and encourage something I’m always concerned.”

Tory Perfetti, chairman of Floridians for Solar Choice, said the failure of the Brandes bills does not affect the effort to put the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot.

“The ballot language in no way favors any form of energy over another,” Perfetti said in response to Brandes’ comments. “I highly encourage all citizens of Florida to read the entire ballot initiative and they will see that the Amendment only removes barriers that currently exist.”

Rep. Alan Williams, a Democrat from Tallahassee who is on the House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee, said he has signed the petition to get the measure on the ballot and is encouraging others to do so.

“I think we are going to continue to see more ballot initiatives — like the solar, one that make sense — that (provide policy) the citizens of Florida can’t get from the Legislature,” he said.

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee. 

Bruce Ritchie


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