Column: Vote for Amendment 4 and turn the lights on for solar in Florida

The proposed amendment will reduce taxes on solar panels, lowering the cost of energy for homeowners and businesses.
The proposed amendment will reduce taxes on solar panels, lowering the cost of energy for homeowners and businesses.
Published Aug. 5, 2016

Another summer of record heat is transforming rooftops and power bills throughout America as more smart businesses and consumers switch to solar power.

Businesses like Walmart, Kohl's, Costco, Apple and IKEA are embracing solar energy. Collectively, the companies with the most solar capacity in the United States have systems generating enough electricity to power more than 115,000 homes. And these companies are installing even more capacity in other states.

But unfortunately Florida is lagging, even though experts say our solar resource puts the Sunshine State among the top three solar states. Even Florida's consumer rooftop solar is ranked a disappointing 17th.

There's good news, though, for the Sunshine State. On the Aug. 30 primary ballot, voters will have the power to harness Florida's inexhaustible sunshine by approving Amendment 4. The amendment would reduce taxes on solar panels, lowering the cost of energy for both homeowners and businesses.

Florida consumers and businesses understand solar makes sense. One of the largest private solar arrays is right here in the Tampa Bay area. Great Bay Distributors, the state's top independent Anheuser-Busch distributor and a third-generation Florida family company, has combined hot sun and cold beer with Florida's largest private rooftop solar installation. So far, according to CEO Ron Petrini, the "going is great."

He reports that the just-finished 1.5-megawatt installation will supply up to 80 percent of the power requirements for the 280,000-square-foot office and warehouse complex in St. Petersburg. Petrini notes the savings mean new jobs and reinvestment in Florida: "The long-term savings Great Bay receives by using solar is money we are using to reinvest in our business, our employees and the local community. Since moving in to our new facility, we have added 20-plus employees to help service, sell, promote and invest in our business and products."

"Not only was it the right thing to do, it was the smart thing to do," Petrini says. "We invested close to $3 million alone in the solar array, not including other energy-efficient building design features, and expect a six- to seven-year return on investment. Our monthly electric bills to power the new 280,000-square-foot office and air conditioned warehouse space are significantly less than for our old building, which was half the size."

The company expects to reduce its projected electric bill by as much as 80 percent. "We know that it will be beneficial," Petrini says. "It appears the numbers work very, very well for this company." Other benefits include reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 43,610 tons over a life cycle of 25 to 30 years, the equivalent of planting 1.1 million trees.

So how will Amendment 4 help consumers and businesses? It eliminates taxes for both consumers and businesses, helping make solar more affordable. Amendment 4 has been endorsed by more than 130 organizations, from traditional conservation groups such as the Sierra Club and Audubon to more conservative groups such as the Florida Tea Party and Christian Coalition, as well as key business groups like Associated Industries, the Restaurant and Lodging Association and the Florida Realtors. So far, no formal opposition has been voiced.

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The cost of solar has fallen by more than 80 percent in the past 10 years, and the Federal Investment Tax Credit — which refunds 30 percent of the cost of solar panels — has just been extended for five more years. More solar means less need for expensive new power plants as our population continues to grow. It also means keeping millions of dollars in Floridians' pockets rather than spending money overseas and out of state for coal and gas.

Let's turn the lights on for solar in Florida.

Deirdre Macnab is chair of the League of Women Voters of Florida Solar/Natural Resources Committee.