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The Tampa Tribune: Editorial: Cut Taxes to Boost Solar

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Voters have good reason to be confused about proposed ballot initiatives concerning solar energy this fall.

But they should take care to support a measure that would give commercial operations a tax incentive to invest in solar.

If approved by voters, the straightforward measure, championed by Pinellas Sen. Jeff Brandes, would empower the Legislature to extend to commercial property the same renewable energy tax break now given to residences.

Thus, installing solar or other renewable energy devices on commercial properties would not increase property taxes or tangible personal property taxes.

This makes sense if we are going to transition to clean energy sources. Solar, in particular, has the potential of becoming a major energy source in sunny Florida and will create local jobs at the same time.

Brandes says he believes the substantial tax exemption “will really drive solar” and bring thousands of jobs to the state.

Amendment 4 will appear on the August primary ballot to avoid confusion with another solar initiative that will be on the November ballot.

Some background: Last year consumer and clean energy groups attempted to put a pro-solar initiative on the ballot. Floridians for Solar Choice sought to allow businesses and homeowners to sell up to 2 megawatts of solar power with some restrictions.

But the utility industry launched its own referendum campaign, the deceptively named Consumers for Smart Solar, that would codify in the state constitution existing laws that now prohibit consumers or businesses from selling solar power.

Alas, the devious utility-backed amendment collected enough signatures to be put on this year’s ballot, while the pro-consumer effort initiative failed to qualify, though backers are working to put it on the 2018 ballot.

So the Consumers for Smart Solar amendment, aimed at protecting the status quo, will be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

Brandes rightly worked to move the solar tax-exemption plan to the Aug. 30 primary election ballot.

It is an unusual move, but one that should prevent confusion.

Though many Florida companies are beginning to invest in solar power, the state’s solar production ranks near the middle of the pack — and far behind other more enterprising states, including New York, Massachusetts, Arizona and New Jersey.

Brandes is right when he says, “The Sunshine State should be the leader in solar energy.”

Easing the tax burden on commercial investment in solar will generate more energy and jobs while cleaning the environment. The referendum merits voters’ support.

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