On August 30th, voters in Florida will have the opportunity to help the state takes its first step to having free market options in the energy industry.
By Edmund Young
Amendment 4 will give homeowners and small business owners the opportunity to save money on costly bills to the power company and increase the value of their property while not being penalized with increased property taxes for the first twenty years. Opposition to the amendment has cried out about favoritism and subsidies while others have questioned if solar energy is a viable source of energy or can really impact our economy.
It’s time to set the record straight and answer a few questions. Why does there have to be an amendment? Can’t our elected legislature just take care of this? No they cannot. The amendment modifies Article VII, section 3 of the Florida Constitution regarding property taxes. This modification may only be done by an amendment.
The Florida Constitution may only be amended by one of four processes. It may be placed on the ballot by a joint resolution of the Florida legislature (which must be passed by 3/5 of the full legislature) or a citizens’ petition initiative. Direct amendments may be made by the Constitutional Revision Commission or by the Taxation and Budget Commission which meet every ten years.
In order for the amendment to pass, it will require at least 60% of the vote. The Florida legislature can only vote to place an amendment on the ballot, they cannot make changes to the state Constitution by legislation only the voters can. Doesn’t Amendment 4 give subsidies to the Solar Industry?
The verbiage of the amendment’s ballot wording is pretty clear –
“Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to authorize the Legislature, by general law, to exempt from ad valorem taxation the assessed value of solar or renewable energy source devices subject to tangible personal property tax, and to authorize the Legislature, by general law, to prohibit consideration of such devices in assessing the value of real property for ad valorem taxation purposes. This amendment takes effect January 1, 2018, and expires on December 31, 2037.”
You didn’t see the word subsidies or any mention of the state giving anyone money to anyone, why? Because this amendment will not give money to anyone, its sole purpose is to exempt property owners that choose to add solar equipment (whether it’s to heat the pool or power your home) from any increase to their property value due to the addition of the equipment when their property taxes (both tangible personal property tax and the real property tax) are calculated until the year 2037.
It’s an incentive for property owners as it temporarily eliminates one of the financial hurdles that keeps people from investing in solar energy for their home or business. In short, the amendment doesn’t give any person or industry money but allows property owners to keep their money. Doesn’t this amendment shows favoritism to one part of the energy market and gives it an unfair advantage?
For decades, power companies have been given tax incentives, tax free buildings, refunds (subsidies), and government-given permission to operate monopolies with little oversite by our elected officials. In recent years, some utilities have proposed rate hikes as much as 24% without giving a reason for the increase.
Energy utilities have used every trick in their books to hinder and hold back solar energy in the Sunshine State. At the city, county, and state level they have lobbied to put restrictions on how much of your electricity can come from solar, where they can be placed on your property (usually in a place where they get the least amount of sun exposure), and what price you must sell the excess electricity to the utility company itself (in some parts of Florida the sale price is less than 1% per kilowatt of what the utility charges customers).
While favoritism in the energy department may be a problem, solar is not the source of it. Can increasing our usage of solar energy improve our economy? According to recent studies by the Solar Foundation’s 2015 Job Survey, solar energy companies creating new jobs twenty times faster than the job market’s national average. One out of every eighty-three new jobs created in 2015 in the United States came from the solar industry, more than any other part of the energy market.
The majority of the jobs produced by solar energy are considered to pay real living wages that cannot be outsourced so the jobs and the income stays here in Florida. More individuals earning a living wage means less needing help and assistance from state and federal programs which means funding can be used for other needs of the community.
As property owners begin save more and more money as they switch to solar energy the money that would before be going towards their ever-growing electric bills now turns into money that can be used as discretionary spending money or money to invest. Can solar energy really provide enough electricity to power my home?
Yes it can.
Just like when you get any new feature installed in your home or business, you will need to call the professionals in so they can answer the following questions to decide how many solar panels your home or business needs:
• What is the property’s energy requirements?
• What is the target daily average? (Experts suggest a 25% “cushion” when calculating the average.)
• How many hours of sunlight can you expect in your area?
• How many panels would provide my target hourly wattage?
Many solar energy contractors ask these additional questions to get a better feel for what the customer wants:
• Do you want to minimize your carbon footprint?
• Maximize your return on investment?
• Save as much money as possible?
Once they have these questions answered they can tell you what your property will need. Just with like many other features to a building, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. While solar energy is still relatively the new kid on the block, one cannot deny that the doors it will open and options it will provide Floridians can no longer be ignored.
The advantages it will provide to our economy, environment, and pocketbook will only be limited by the limits we set on ourselves.
This is a chance for the Sunshine State to live up to its name. On the August 30th ballot, help Florida take the first step toward renewable energy and vote yes for homeowners, yes for businesses, yes for the economy, yes for the environment, yes for Florida, and YES 4 SOLAR!
Ed Young is a local teacher who has taught in central Florida for the last twelve years. He is a longtime Seminole County resident, financial conservative, and advocate for conserving Florida’s natural resources. He is an elected member of the Seminole County Soil & Water Conservation District where he represents Group 4 and currently serves as their treasurer. He has conducted surveys of state parks for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and presented to various community groups and organization of the benefits of solar energy.