Solar amendment becomes effective with new year

Nearly 2 million voted to allow tax breaks for solar, energy saving devices

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Nearly 2 million people voted to allow tax breaks for solar and other energy saving devices in August. The amendment becomes effective with the new year, but lawmakers must also act to make the savings a reality.

David Van Winkle is having 39 solar panels installed on his horse barn. They will power his 3,500-square-foot home and the barn. Van Winkle voted for Amendment 4 in August.

"That was a positive," Van Winkle said.

By the time the panels are on the roof and working, the electric bill is going to be virtually zero.

Van Winkle will break even in just under seven years.

"It's not going to take us off the grid entirely because it doesn't work at night and we're not putting in a battery system," Van Winkle said.

Amendment 4 said both businesses and homeowners can't be taxed for the value of the improvements to their property or for the value of the solar system. Voters approved a similar homeowners-only amendment in 2008. It took lawmakers five years to put the tax breaks in place.

But even with the past history, industry experts said Amendment 4 is already having a positive effect on the solar industry.

"I think in five years, we'll see a lot more solar on rooftops in particular," said Kim Ross, of Rethink Energy Florida.

The growth is creating another problem: Scarce labor. Solar contractor Al Simpler said when incentives went away a handful years ago, installers left for brighter pastures.

"It's going to make a long-term difference, yes," Simpler said. "We're going to actually start bring people into Florida now to get trained in the solar business."

Having too much business is a problem many business owners would like to be dealing with every day.

Solar advocates do worry that big utilities, which tried and failed to pass what was dubbed the shady solar amendment one this year, will try to delay lawmakers action on the tax breaks. But the advocates said they will be watching closely.