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Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, files bill to reduce taxes on solar power systems

A St. Petersburg lawmaker announced Tuesday the filing of a bill that would reduce the taxes on solar power systems for businesses that install them at their facilities.

The legislation, by Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes, would expand existing law for residential solar installations to include commercial property. The bill would reduce the real estate or personal property tax for installations. In addition, devices that produce renewable energy would be exempt from tangible property tax.

Solar industry experts say the taxes are one of the barriers to expansion of solar in Florida. Those taxes, they say, made it difficult economically for the industry to make a profit.

"The Sunshine State should be the leader in solar energy," Brandes said. "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."

Brandes' legislation is one of a growing number of efforts to change Florida policy in regard to solar.

What the solar industry really wants is a change in the state Constitution to allow solar producers to sell the power they generate directly to consumers.

Under current state law, only utilities can sell directly to consumers. That means a landlord of a shopping mall or even a residential landlord that has installed solar panels on the roofs of their properties cannot sell the electricity to their tenants.

Changing the law could undermine the utilities' business model and take revenue away from the power companies.

But a coalition of conservatives, liberals, retailers and environmentalists are circulating petitions to amend the Constitution if state lawmakers choose not to address the issue.

The unusual case of tea party and Christian Coalition conservatives making peace with liberal environmentalists shows how, at the grass roots level, demand for solar appears to be growing.

But the alliance of solar backers fears that utilities and conservative oil magnates the Koch Brothers (a major supplier of fuel for Florida power plants) will wage a fierce war against solar proponents' efforts.

In particular, backers said they expect the utilities to try to increase fees charged to solar owners to remain connected to the grid.

"It's great that they're offering to reduce the taxes," said Scott McIntyre, president of the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy, and a solar contractor. "But this is a nice, interim, tiny step."

Contact Ivan Penn at ipenn@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2332. Follow @Consumers_Edge.

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