Florida voters spoke loudly and clearly last year when they overwhelmingly supported Amendment 4, a tax credit measure aimed at jump-starting the solar energy market in the Sunshine State. Yet House members are pursuing new hurdles that would undermine voters' intent and benefit electric utilities determined to protect their monopolies. That's what happens when the utilities help write legislation, and the Senate should not stand for it.
The bill, HB 1351 by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Fort Myers, seeks to implement the constitutional amendment that bans tax collectors from assessing property taxes on renewable energy devices. Supporters hope the change will stoke the market for clean energy by giving property owners a new incentive to install solar, wind and water systems to lessen the demand on fossil fuel-driven energy.
But rather than offer a straightforward bill to implement the constitutional amendment, Rodrigues added provisions masquerading as consumer-friendly. They actually create regulatory hurdles that will frustrate businesses and property owners looking for new energy sources. The bill imposes disclosure, paperwork and other requirements on companies that finance and install solar systems in homes and businesses, and it mandates warnings and cost estimates that could confuse or scare customers away.
Rodrigues wants to ward off "bad actors" in the solar industry. But as Mary Ellen Klas of the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reports, the state's largest utility wrote part of the bill and Rodrigues' political committee later accepted $17,000 from Florida Power & Light and Tampa Electric. A draft sent to Rodrigues labeled "Attorney-Client" communication shows the author of the document was Barbara J. Washington, senior legal assistant at NextEra, the parent company of Florida Power & Light. An FPL spokesman denied that Washington or the company wrote the bill language, though Rodrigues acknowledged "some of the language" offered by FPL made it into the legislation.
This language is not helpful to anyone besides the electric monopolies. Rodrigues acknowledged that there are no problems with solar installation in Florida. As representatives of the industry told lawmakers, safety requirements are already in place, and an industry trade group for solar already requires its members to adhere to best practices and disclosures. The language Rodrigues embraced only serves as a harassment tool to frustrate the expansion of the solar market.
In opening the legislative session last month, House Speaker Richard Corcoran proclaimed that the House is a champion of the people. "Everything we have done so far we have done to keep faith with the people who have sent us," the Land O'Lakes Republican said. "Let's joyfully and proudly go crashing against the special interests."
This bill does no such thing. A Senate version by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, is a clean implementation bill that seeks to put into practice what the voters demanded. The Senate should approve SB 90 and urge the House to embrace it rather than the electric utilities' bill.