Solar energy supporters are confused. They know a bad constitutional amendment, sponsored by the utilities, is coming. They also know that it's a wolf in sheep's clothing — it looks harmless but is up to no good.
You can relax; that's not the one on Florida's Aug. 30 primary ballot. But don't let your guard down completely; the deceptive amendment rears its ugly head on the November general election ballot.
If you believe, like I do, that the use of solar energy should grow in the Sunshine State, that individuals and businesses should be able to benefit from putting solar panels on their homes and workplaces, and that there should be incentives and not obstacles to solar expansion, then you should vote yes in August on Amendment 4.
Amendment 4 is titled, "Solar Devices or Renewable Energy Source Devices; Exemption from Certain Taxation and Assessment." It may sound confusing, but it's really simple. If you were to install solar panels on your property, the value would be exempt from both the tangible personal property tax and the real property tax.
This is not a new concept. It extends the tax break for residential property owners who have installed solar or other renewable energy equipment since 2013.
It does, however, create a new exemption for businesses. If Amendment 4 passes, appraisers would exempt the value of renewable energy devices from the ad valorem tax levied on the tangible personal property of businesses.
Why shouldn't businesses get a similar benefit for engaging in behavior that is good for our environment, our economy and society as a whole? We should incentivize good behavior.
Businesses are learning that installing renewable energy equipment leads to energy cost savings and allows them to reinvest in their businesses and create new jobs.
Solar makes sense. Once considered cost-prohibitive, the cost of solar has fallen more than 80 percent over the past 10 years. Businesses see an investment in renewable energy as an opportunity to control their costs in a smart and environmentally friendly way.
The lower cost of solar equipment combined with a federal tax credit that refunds 30 percent of the cost of solar panels makes it more attractive for businesses to consider switching to solar power. The federal investment tax credit was just extended for another five years, so it's a good time for the state to add an incentive that doesn't negatively affect our existing revenue.
Unlike many issues placed on the ballot through citizens' initiative by voters unhappy that legislators are ignoring their wishes, Amendment 4 was put on the ballot by the Legislature, with unanimous votes in both the House and the Senate. Why the Legislature placed it on the primary ballot in August is anyone's guess, but I suspect it was to separate it from the more controversial utility-backed solar amendment.
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Many times the Legislature pushes controversial issues unnecessarily through the constitutional amendment process when a change in law would suffice. The solar tax exemption is actually good public policy that requires a constitutional amendment because it makes changes to state property taxes.
Kudos to the Legislature on this one.
It's also unusual that there doesn't seem to be any organized opposition to the solar amendment — not even by the utilities that are saving all their firepower for the November issue. Environmental and business groups support Amendment 4. In fact, the League of Women Voters—another supporter — estimates that some 170 groups are also on board.
Florida is ranked third nationally in solar energy potential but sadly ranks 17th in solar power generated. Renewables, including solar, only account for a measly 3 percent of our energy production in the Sunshine State.
We all benefit when technology is used to provide clean, safe and inexpensive energy. Solar power, unlike utility-generated energy, emits no air pollution and doesn't require any water usage or discharges.
Amendment 4 offers a reasonable tax incentive from future tax revenue without diverting existing revenue from worthy projects. It's a win for residential property owners, it's a win for businesses, it's a win for job creation and it's a win for Florida's environment.
If you truly support solar choice, vote yes in August and no in November.
Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She can be reached at PBDockery@gmail.com.