Solar tax exemption details coming soon

Solar power hopes get exemption issue resolved soon

Tallahassee (AP) Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a solar tax exemption for businesses known as  Amendment 4 in August, but as the saying goes, the devil is in the details.

Now legislators are wrestling with crafting and enacting the enabling legislation that will spell out the details. Already some in the solar industry are saying the proposed Constitutional amendment, as outlined in House Bill 1351, is too strict and burdensome for them.

Tuesday, Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R- Fort Myers, who is sponsoring HB 1351, told the House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee that  he wants to ensure that consumers are protected by full disclosure when signing a contract for solar panels or other renewable energy devices. The changes in the law are forecast to make the solar industry take off in Florida.

Rodrigues said he wants to see solar grow in Florida, but he doesn’t want to see headlines with “tales of woe” about consumer problems such as those that have occurred in Arizona due to “bad actors” in the solar industry there.

 “Do you believe we create the policy, or are we here for the demands of special interests?” Rodrigues asked.

The committee passed the bill, which still has to go through two more committees before it makes it to the House.  Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, the committee’s ranking Democrat,  said she wants stakeholders to meet with Rodrigues to see how the amendment can be implemented in a way that protects consumers, while allowing installers to live with it.

Amendment 4 is viewed by many as a catalyst for growth in Florida’s solar industry. Once the law is enacted, the renewable energy equipment such as solar panels and windmills will be exempt from state tangible property taxes. And property appraisers cannot consider the equipment when calculating a property’s assessed value.

The amendment extends these exemptions which homeowners have enjoyed since 2013 to businesses.

Rodrigues said he  learned that other states that have had significant increases in solar systems have experienced operators who have convinced people to invest in solar without a full disclosure of the requirements to interconnect with an electric utility.

A solar system must be interconnected in order for the owner or lessor to participate in net metering, which gives the consumer a way to buy and sell electricity to the utility.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has brought numerous consumer fraud lawsuits against solar companies  including Going Green Solar, Gee Investments, Epcon Solar and Stealthy Solar, over the last few years and obtained settlements.  The lawsuits charged that the companies deceived consumers about how much their energy bills would be reduced and made other misleading and deceptive statements.

Rodrigues is proposing that solar and other renewable energy contractors provide an estimate of the buyer’s or lessee’s estimated utility charges ranging from a 5 percent increase to a 5 percent decrease.

“In Arizona some of the less-than-honorable operations would get a lease agreement signed  and not have the person connected to a utility. We are trying to prevent that from happening here in Florida,” Rodrigues said.

Jeffrey Sharkey, a lobbyist representing Tesla, SolarCity, the nation’s largest solar installer and the Energy Freedom Coalition of America said that SolarCity provides customers what it believes is adequate disclosure requirements.

Sharkey said almost every issue related to solar installations is already covered under existing state and federal laws.

Patrick Altier, an Ocala-based solar installer and president of the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association, said some of the bill’s language would require solar contractors to provide advice about tax implications or financing  beyond the scope of what they normally do.

“It is requiring us to be fortune tellers or bankers. We have banks that do financing. We don’t offer it,” Altier said.