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Jeff Brandes proposes legislation to extend renewable energy tax exemption

Could this be the year that the Florida Legislature finally starts trying to actually encourage solar power production in the Sunshine State?

The state’s heretofore desultory commitment to alternative energy sources took another hit last fall, when the Public Service Commission voted to cut the energy efficiency goals of the state’s utility companies by more than 90 percent, a move that was based off of proposals from Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric, and Florida Power & Light. The commission also voted to allow a statewide solar rebate program to expire at the end of this year.

A hybrid of liberal and conservative groups are taking matters into their own hands, working on collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot that would allow residents to sell electricity generated from the sun directly to their neighbors, tenants and friends, instead of giving the utilities a cut. It would also allow people to escape the big upfront costs of installing solar by ending the prohibition on leasing solar panels.

Now St. Petersburg based Republican state Senator Jeff Brandes is getting into the act. He announced legislation today that would provide property tax relief for the installation of renewable energy source devices, such as solar panels.

“The Sunshine State should be the leader in solar energy,” said Brandes. “This legislation is designed to remove barriers to businesses so that they can enter this growing renewable energy market. Reducing burdensome taxes is a key component to fostering the solar energy market in Florida.”

The legislation expands an existing ad valorum property tax abatement on renewable energy source devices installed on residential property. Under the proposal, the ad valorum abatement would apply to other properties including commercial structures. Additionally, the proposal creates an exemption to the tangible personal property tax for renewable energy source devices installed on any property.

In 2008, 61 percent of Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment to provide a tax exemption for renewable energy and wind resistance improvements to residential properties. A spokesman for Brandes says his proposal extends that abatement to other property uses.

“I think the game has changed here in the last few years,” Brandes told SaintPetersBlog on Tuesday. “Now we see the prices of solar come down, in some cases 70 percent in the last 10 years. We see energy storage turning the corner. So I think in the next few years you’re going to see people have batteries on the side of their  homes, batteries on the sides of businesses.”

Brande says that while preparing his legislation, he wasn’t aware of the efforts by groups like the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Green Tea Coalition to team up for their constitutional amendment on solar power. He says he thinks the legislature should be the entity leading the effort, and promises to release another bill next month that will deal with distributive power, specifically microgrids, which he predicts “will be a game changer for Florida and really help us turn the corner on solar.”

Whether it’s the Legislature or via a citizen’s driven constitutional amendment, the momentum for increased solar power in Florida is looking brighter than it ever has. But you don’t have to be a hardened cynic to realize there’s still a ways to go before seeing such policies enacted. Brandes’ similar legislation a year ago that did not get through the Legislature.

Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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