TALLAHASSEE — Florida legislators voted Wednesday to put a clean energy amendment on the August primary ballot, allowing voters to decide whether or not to give businesses two different tax breaks when they install solar panels on their properties.
The proposed amendment, HJR 193, passed unanimously in both the House and Senate after sponsors moved the ballot question to the Aug. 30 primary instead of the general election.
The House and Senate also passed a companion measure, HB 195, which will give the Legislature until 2017 to establish the rules to implement the tax credits if voters approve it. Under the amendment, lawmakers would be required to enact tax credits that exempt the assessed value of renewable energy devices from property taxes as well as exempt the products from the tangible personal property taxes by 2018. Once the tax incentives are in place, they will last for 20 years.
The proposed amendment is sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Fort Myers, and has the support of the Florida Retail Federation, the Christian Coalition, Conservatives for Energy Freedom, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and other business groups whose members want the opportunity to install solar arrays on their properties. They have said that the existing tax laws serve as a disincentive for companies like Solar City to enter the Florida market by adding as much as 5 cents per kilowatt hour for solar energy.
“The proposal opens the door for significant expansion of solar and renewable energy production in Florida,” Brandes said in a statement Wednesday.
“Tourism, the biggest industry in Florida, will benefit from the energy savings that reducing taxes will offer,” said Richard E. Turner, general counsel and vice president of government relations for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. “The power of the sun is one of the state’s greatest resources. It’s time we harness it to power our homes and businesses.”
Moving the amendment from the November to the August ballot was seen by supporters as an effort to avoid voter confusion. The state’s largest utilities have spent nearly $7 million to successfully delay an amendment proposed by clean energy groups that would let property owners install small-scale solar generation and sell it to neighbors. The utilities created a political committee, Consumers for Smart Solar, to push for a competing amendment that would retain the barriers to competition in energy generation.
The utility-backed amendment is opposed by solar advocates.