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State News

Lawmakers Look To Extend Renewable Energy Incentive To Businesses

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Lance Cheung
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In this, the Sunshine State, there are financial incentives to putting solar panels on homes.  A constitutional amendment already stops counties from charging higher property taxes on homes whose value is increased when solar cells are installed. Now, clean energy advocates are backing a bill which would extend that tax relief to commercial property.

Last session, in an effort to encourage homeowners to retrofit their homes with renewable energy devices, lawmakers sweetened the deal by promising residential homeowners they wouldn’t face a property tax increase because of those improvements.  Now Senator Jeff Brandes (St. Petersburg-R) says he wants commercial property owners to get the same treatment.

“I think it’s a great idea to let commercial property owners do the same thing. They’re very interested in this and as technology evolves it’s going to make sense for a lot of businesses to transfer to solar,” Brandes said.

Brandes is also pushing a partner bill that would re-write the state constitution to specify the energy generated by solar panels or wind turbines should be used by the property where the device is installed. And while energy advocates say they’re behind the bills, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy spokeswoman Susan Glickman said she’d like to see legislation with even more incentives.

“There’s a burdensome tax on individuals and businesses that happens if you want to lease solar equipment. So, we want to take a look at that as this bill moves forward because that would unleash certainly more job creation and more economic development," Glickman said.

Meanwhile, local government officials say they’re keeping their eye on the bills. In cities like Tallahassee the proposal could have a one-two punch. Tallahassee gets some funding from property taxes, but the majority of its budget is funded by payments to utilities the city owns. Brandes’ bill could mean less money  coming out of both pots. Tallahassee Chief of Staff Rick Minor acknowledged a large increase in the number of solar panels could hurt the city’s bottom line, but he insists green energy is more important.

“That’s true, but you know we also have a keen interest in making sure we do everything we can to promote sustainable energy and renewable energy options and you know, based on our record of working with our residents as well as our commercial customers over the past few years we’ve got a record of doing that," Minor said.

Minor said the city is working with the Florida League of Cities to judge what the measure’s impact will be.