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Orlando Sentinel: Sponsor Jeff Brandes Says Amendment Boosts Solar

Thursday, June 02, 2016

When Florida voters cast their ballots in the state’s August primary, they’ll be presented with a proposed constitutional amendment to exempt solar panels and other renewable-energy devices from property taxes. Amendment 4 advanced to the ballot with unanimous support from legislators this year. We recently spoke with the Senate sponsor, Republican Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, to get more details. An excerpt follows. A video of our discussion with Brandes, which also touched on autonomous vehicles, red-light cameras and other topics, is at

Q: If Amendment 4 passes, how much would it reduce revenue for local and state governments?

A: It really depends on how [legislators] write the implementing bill. But the interesting thing is, if this amendment passes, we think that there will be significantly more incentive to invest in solar power. … Many of these investments would not be made except for the passage of this amendment. … It might cost $2 million or $3 million to the state every year.

Q: How would Florida compare with other states in treating solar panels for tax purposes?

A: Many of them [already have tax exemptions]. But a lot of them aren’t as reliant on property taxes as the state of Florida. … The interesting thing about this proposal is it really doesn’t pick winners or losers. … Any company that participates in renewables, whether it be solar or wind or any type of renewable on [its] property, would get the benefit. … There’s also a limited time span. This only lasts for 20 years. So the incentive is to do it in the early years, so you can maximize that benefit in the later years. We think it really does a lot to encourage [renewable-energy investment].

Q: How much might individual homeowners save if this amendment passes?

A: … Residential homes are already exempt from ad valorem [taxes for solar panels]. This simply extends it to commercial properties. So you can imagine some of the bigger businesses — Publix, Wal-Mart, Costco — having a strong incentive to incorporate more solar energy on their rooftops with the passage of this amendment, and I think that’s positive for everyone.

Q: Another amendment to let homes and businesses with solar panels sell power to their neighbors failed to make the ballot amid opposition from utilities. What’s your view?

A: I actually ran a bill on that issue a couple of years ago to do exactly that. I don’t think we need to put that in the constitution. I think the Legislature could handle that … It’s called distributed generation. … It’s really coming online around the country. And as battery technology picks up, we see that as being a major model for the future. I think you’re going to see a lot more discussion of distributed generation, because it’s really exciting.

Q: Why would you pursue this approach in the face of resistance from the utilities?

A: … I’m sure that anything that affects their business they’re not exactly thrilled by. I think at the end of the day the Legislature is going to begin to distance itself [from the utilities] on that issue and really focus in on distributed generation as a right of Floridians. There’s no reason the state should be involved to protect utilities over the rights of business owners and homeowners to create agreements between themselves. I think that’s a right that individuals in Florida should have, and I think we should focus in on distributed generation as really the future of energy.

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