March 7, 2014

Bills Extending Renewable Energy Tax Exemption to Commercial Properties in Florida Clears First Senate Stop

A pair of Senate bills that would encourage businesses to install solar panels in Florida cleared their first committee stop on Tuesday without opposition although environmentalists continued to push for broader tax exemptions and tax cuts.

In 2008, 61 percent of voters approved a constitutional amendment to provide the tax exemption for renewable energy and wind resistance improvements to residential properties in Florida. Last year the Legislature passed HB 277, which implemented the amendment but only for renewable energy.

SB 922 would rewrite state law to extend the exemption for renewable energy to commercial property for improvements made after Jan. 1, 2015. SB 916 would place a constitutional amendment on the 2014 ballot to extend the exemption but limit it to "end-users" of the electricity.

"I think it's a great idea to let commercial property owners do the same thing," said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg and sponsor of the bills. "They are very interested in this. As the technology evolves it makes a lot of sense to transition to solar."

Both bills passed the Senate Committee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilitiesby 7-0 votes without debate. SB 916 has three more committee stops and SB 922 has two more.

Environmental groups told senators they supported the bills but they want broader incentives for renewable energy. The bills passed with support from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Susan Glickman, Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said she had concerns about the restriction in the bill on providing the exemption to end users rather than allowing businesses to sell excess power to other users. Her group supports reducing the tangible personal property tax on renewable energy. 

"We want to make sure that is clarified as well and then look at actually unlocking the market for solar in the state of Florida, the sunshine state," Glickman said. A representative of the  Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy said the group supports her remarks.

SB 1374 by Sen. Geraldine F. Thompson, D-Orlando, would encourage those third-party providers of energy by exempting them from regulation as public utilities.

Utilities generally oppose expanding access to third-party providers who don't share the cost of maintaining the electricity grid and providing reliable power when renewable energy is not available. Utility lobbyists who were at the Senate committee meeting did not speak.

Also Tuesday, Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami and chairman of the Senate energy committee, expressed reluctance to address Florida's nuclear cost recovery law again this session.

The 2006 law allows utilties to recovery costs for nuclear projects regardless of whether they are built. Last year, SB 1472 by Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, denied cost recovery 20 years after a federal license was obtained. 

This year, SB 1408 would repeal the 2006 law and SB 1392 would allow recovery only once plans begin commercial operation.

"Last year we made some pretty significant changes to the way we do nuclear cost recovery," Flores said Tuesday. "It might be best to let those changes have a year or so to see how they work out before we look at any other changes."

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