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What’s On Your Ballot? Amendment 4: Solar Subsidies For Homeowners, Businesses

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Ryan Benk
/
WJCT News
Four A1A Solar contractors finish installing panels on a large residential home in Arlington.

This article was updated at 2:45 p.m.

With primary early voting underway, WJCT News is taking a close look at what voters are deciding in our series, “What’s On Your Ballot?”

State Constitutional Amendment 4, which would make it cheaper for property owners and businesses to buy and install solar panels, is the first of two opposing solar amendments Floridians will vote on this year.

Inside Riverside’s Bold Bean, Jacksonville native Meghan DellaCrosse is a graduate student visiting home for the summer from New York City. She takes her time carefully reading both summaries before deciding which amendment she thinks is more pro-solar.

“Amendment 4 seems more in favor of actually proposing a model that would promote more use of solar energy, where Amendment 1 seems like it’s more in favor of utility companies,” she said.

The title of Amendment 4 is Florida Property Tax Exemptions for Renewable Energy Equipment. And it's premise is pretty simple: If you install solar panels on your home or business, the value it adds to your property can’t be included when the county calculates your property taxes.

READ BELOW: Amendment 4

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Credit Vince Kong / WJCT News
Amendment 4

The Florida Legislature put it on the ballot with the thought the tax break will incentivize businesses to use more solar.

Across the bridge in Arlington, four A1A Solar contractors are gearing up to climb to the roof of a large suburban home. They’re strapping on safety harnesses and carrying equipment to finish covering the roof with panels.

“I left my current career and went into the solar industry and several years later, I guess it’s been about six and a half years now, that A1A Solar was created and we’ve been growing ever since,” said A1A Solar founder Pete Wilking..

Federal labor trackers predict a huge uptick in solar-related jobs over the next decade, and a solar industry-backed survey said the sector would more than double in size this year. That rosy picture was drawn after Congress agreed to extend federal subsidies for rooftop solar at the end of 2015.

But Wilking said most of that growth isn’t from local homes or businesses, but from large-scale solar farms — usually owned by utility companies.

“Some utility companies are not friendly toward rooftop solar. They like the idea of them owning the solar equipment, but they don’t like the idea of their customers owning solar equipment. There’s been several policy battles even here in Jacksonville with JEA,” Wilking said.

One recent fight was over a JEA proposal to reduce what it pays residential solar users for their excess power.

At the time, JEA CEO Paul McElroy argued it isn't fair for low-income utility customers to subsidize wealthier owners of solar panels.

“Our studies show, and we haven't seen anything different, that these are the upper income people in our community,” he said. “I believe, part of my mission, is to create … transparency between all of our customers in a fair and equitable pricing of our product.”

As a municipal power company, JEA isn't taking a position on either initiative.

But McElroy’s argument is similar to one used by those who oppose Amendment 4: A property tax break for businesses is unfair to all taxpayers, who suffer the loss of revenue while getting taxed on the full value of their property.

Some conservatives also say the amendment chooses energy winners by enriching large solar providers.

In contrast, Amendment 1 in November would make it a constitutional right to use solar energy while simultaneously guaranteeing non-solar electricity customers the right to refuse subsidizing it for their neighbors by providing a legal basis to challenge all solar subsidies.

Campaign finance reports show 3/4 of Amendment 1’s campaign funding comes from Florida power companies.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was updated to include homeowners also as receivers of the subsidy.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at rbenk@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk