Florida To Vote On Huge Tax Breaks For Rooftop Solar Panels


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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Florida voters head to the polls in August to decide if taxpayers owe people who own rooftop solar panels generous tax breaks.

The ballot measure in question exempts rooftop solar panels from taxes for 20 years. It would have to win 60 percent of the vote to become law due to a provision in the state constitution.

State politicians from both parties support the measure. Republican State Sen. Jeff Brandes, who held a press conference Wednesday to support the tax breaks, saying they were long overdue. He claimed the measure could encourage solar companies to move into the state, creating thousands of of jobs.

There haven’t been estimates of how much government revenue would be lost from the ballot measure, as only local governments collect property taxes in Florida. The state already has numerous other regulations and tax incentives designed to support solar power financially, the costs of which are extremely high.

Several Florida media outlets have already endorsed the measure including the Tampa Bay Times, the Bradenton Herald, the Tampa Tribune and the Tallahassee Democrat.

The ballot measure could create legal conflict with two rival ballot measures in Florida regarding solar power that are set to be voted on during the 2016 November election. The rival ballot measures are in an epic duel, as both claim that they alone are advocating for increased use of solar power by the Sunshine State. The two respective measures vehemently oppose one another.

Floridians for Solar Choice (FSC) wants an amendment to the state constitution that would make leasing rooftop solar panels and selling excess electricity to other people easier. The group is a coalition of environmentalists, conservative Christians, and solar energy companies. Tory Perfetti, director of FSC, claims the “ballot initiative will open up the energy market in Florida to freedom of choice and allow commerce to be conducted through the free market.”

Consumers for Smart Solar (CSS) wants an amendment that allows residents to own or lease equipment that produces solar energy for personal use. Their proposed amendment would ensure that residents who don’t produce solar energy don’t have to subsidize the extra costs solar imposes on the electric grid. The group was formed out of opposition to FSC. Jim Kallinger, co-chairman of the CSS, claims his group’s “Smart Solar Amendment provides voters exactly what they want — more solar with consumer protection and without subsidies.”

FSC claims that the “ballot initiative has nothing to do with subsidies or handouts for the solar industry.” Yet, the kind of rooftop solar it is pursuing is already heavily subsidized by the already existing 30 percent federal tax credit for home solar panels. The federal tax credit allows solar-leasing companies to install rooftop systems, which cost a minimum of $10,000, at no upfront cost to the consumer. Companies do this because the state and federal subsidies are so massive that such behavior is actually profitable.

Despite these enormous subsidies, solar power only accounted for 0.6 percent of all electricity generated in America last year, according to the federal Energy Information Administration. Out of the 50 U.S. states, only Hawaii, California, Arizona and Florida got more than 1 percent of their energy from solar power. A majority of US states got less than 0.1 percent of their energy from solar power in 2014.

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