Florida Lawmakers Green-Light Pro-Solar Amendment 4
The Florida state legislature has officially approved a bill to implement the pro-solar Amendment 4, which voters overwhelmingly passed with 73% of the vote on the August 2016 primary ballot. The bill, S.B.90, is slated to reduce tax barriers for Floridians who want to go solar while also ensuring proper consumer protections are in place. The legislation passed both chambers of the legislature unanimously, and as of press time, Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., is expected to sign it into law.
The victory again highlights the power of grassroots campaigns. Thanks to the leadership of state Sen. Jeff Brandes and Rep. Ray Rodrigues, as well as the support of hundreds of businesses, solar advocates and thousands of volunteers, Floridians will likely enjoy lower energy costs after burdensome taxes on solar energy systems are reduced beginning Jan. 1, 2018, according to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE).
Specifically, the group explains, the bill exempts 80% of the value of a solar installation from the tangible personal property (TPP) tax for both residential and commercial properties. SACE says the TPP tax, which covers everything other than real estate that is used in a business or rental property, has been identified as a major roadblock to more solar development. Examples of TPP include computers, furniture, tools, office equipment, leasehold improvements and supplies, and solar energy equipment also falls within the definition. Furthermore, SACE says S.B.90 exempts 80% of the value of a solar installation from the assessment of real property taxes for commercial properties; a 100% exemption already exists for residential properties.
“We applaud Florida lawmakers for implementing this important constitutional amendment in the closing days of the legislative session,” says Dr. Stephen A. Smith, executive director of SACE and board member of Floridians for Solar Choice. “The importance of moving this forward cannot be overstated: With lower taxes for homeowners and businesses, solar energy development will increase, allowing Floridians to lock in energy savings, create jobs, spur economic development and bring much-needed diversity to the state’s energy mix.”
In addition to local advocacy groups, national organizations Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Vote Solar have been supportive throughout the process.
“The Florida legislature took a historic step forward today to expand solar across the state while recognizing Floridians’ desire for more choice over their energy options. And, importantly, the bill includes strong protections and increased transparency for consumers, helping ensure they fully understand solar transactions,” says Tom Kimbis, executive vice president of SEIA. “Consumer protection is both the right thing to do and critical to the success of the industry, and we congratulate the Florida legislature for advancing these protections without creating burdensome red tape for small businesses.”
Amendment 4 wasn’t the only major solar victory achieved through grassroots efforts in Florida last year. After passing that ballot initiative last August, voters also rejected Amendment 1, a utility-backed proposal, in November. Although Florida’s fledgling distributed solar market has been slow to take off, a number of major solar installers, including SolarCity and Vivint Solar, entered the Sunshine State not long after the votes.
A National First: Maryland Creates Storage Tax Credits
“Maryland is charging ahead!” proclaims the Energy Storage Alliance (ESA). In an announcement, the ESA says lawmakers recently passed a bill making Maryland the first state in the country to establish a dedicated tax credit for the installation of energy storage systems.
The bill, S.B.758, overwhelmingly passed the House of Delegates in a 101-11 vote and passed unanimously in the Senate before Gov. Larry Hogan signed it into law. The legislation will allow residents and businesses to receive state income tax credits that cover up to 30% of the total installed cost of an energy storage system. According to the bill text, the incentives will be capped at $5,000 for residential systems and $75,000 for commercial ones, and the credits will be available for systems installed from 2018 through the end of 2022. Overall, the incentive program will have a funding cap of $750,000 each year.
“Over the next five years, Maryland will play a significant role in the advancement of the energy storage industry,” says the ESA in its announcement, adding that the new law is “expected to directly spur more than 10,000 kilowatt-hours of customer-sited energy storage systems and will be paired with private-sector and homeowner investments.”
Furthermore, Maryland lawmakers also passed H.B.773, legislation to kick off a study of “regulatory reforms and market incentives that may be necessary or beneficial to increase the use of energy storage devices in the state” and make final recommendations to legislators before the end of 2018, according to the bill text.
“These two actions are a big win for Maryland’s advanced energy industry and open a path for the state to become a leader in the energy storage industry,” says the ESA in its announcement. “These efforts will not only support the deployment of hundreds of energy storage systems to help Maryland households and businesses lower their utility bills, but also will enable those buildings to relieve stress on the electric grid and be resilient to service disruptions.”
Although some other states – such as California and, more recently, Massachusetts – have turned to mandates in order to increase energy storage deployment, Maryland will now represent the first to offer a tax credit as an incentive to potential storage adopters. Solar and wind power tax credits have proven successful at both the state and federal levels, but efforts to pass a federal tax credit for energy storage have so far been unsuccessful. According to the ESA, Maryland has taken “a historic step.”
Senators Propose 100% Clean Energy By 2050
U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., along with U.S. Sens. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., have proposed landmark climate change legislation that would transition the U.S. to 100% clean energy.
The “100 by ’50 Act” lays out a road map for a transition to 100% clean energy by no later than 2050. According to the lawmakers, it is the first bill introduced in Congress that would fully envision a transition off of fossil fuels in the U.S.
“America is home to innovative entrepreneurs and scientists who have tackled many challenges in our nation’s history – from harnessing electricity to putting a man on the moon to curing disease,” says Merkley. “The power to end the use of fossil fuels and completely transition to clean and renewable energy is within our hands, but just as with the moon landing, we need a road map, a goal and a passionate, shared national commitment to get us there. If an asteroid were hurtling its way through space toward our planet, we would do everything in our power to stop that asteroid. Our commitment to fighting climate change should be no less. Starting at a local, grassroots level and working toward the bold and comprehensive national vision laid out in this legislation, now is the time to commit to 100 percent by 2050.”
“The good news is that despite President Trump, we are winning this battle,” adds Sanders. “In Vermont and all over this country, we are seeing communities moving toward energy efficiency, and we are seeing the price of renewable energy plummet. Our job is to think big, not small. We can win the war against climate change. We can win the war in transforming our energy system and put millions of people to work doing that. We can create a planet that will be healthy and habitable for our children. There is no issue more important.”
The senators have included the following seven components in the bill:
1. Greening the Grid: Phase out fossil fuel electricity by 2050 and replace it with clean and renewable energy. This would be done through a mandatory fossil fuel phase-out and major investments in clean energy, storage and grid infrastructure.
2. Electrifying the Energy Economy: Electrify as many transportation and heating systems with power from the clean electrical grid through a national zero-emission vehicle standard; major investments in zero-emission vehicles and zero-emission heating systems; and carbon-taxing authority for commercial aviation, maritime and rail.
3. Clean and Renewable Energy for All: Ensure that low-income and disadvantaged communities share in the benefits of the transition through grants to make clean energy, energy efficiency and public transportation affordable and accessible and to provide job training in the clean energy sector.
4. Just Transition for Workers: Provide a just transition for those who work in fossil fuels, and make sure they get fair benefits between jobs or in retirement.
5. Ending New Fossil Fuel Investments: Stop approving major fossil fuel projects, such as the Keystone XL pipeline and Dakota Access Pipeline, and end fossil fuel subsidies.
6. Ensuring American Competitiveness: Make sure energy-intensive U.S. products maintain a level playing field with products imported from other countries by imposing a carbon tariff for imported carbon-intensive products.
7. Mobilizing American Resources: Create a major new source of funding to ensure a rapid and smooth transition to clean energy by auctioning climate bonds and investing the funds in the new programs created by the legislation. The climate bonds would ensure climate resiliency throughout existing infrastructure and communities and provide planning grants to organizations, communities, tribes and states to develop their own 100% clean energy plans and jump-start the transition.