Solar industry says it's growing, creating jobs thanks to voters

Business outlook appeared positive Wednesday in Tallahassee



The weather was was cloudy and rainy Wednesday for the fledgling solar industry as it held a Solar Day in the state capital, but the conditions did not appear to dampen the industry’s business outlook for the Sunshine State.

People connected to Florida’s solar industry said voters sent a message heard nationwide when they approved tax exemptions for solar, and defeated a utility-friendly amendment in November.

“It’s just a strong signal that the market is here for Florida,” said Scott Thomasson, of Vote Solar. “I mean, this is really the big year for Florida.”

Florida has never lived up to its nickname and is 14th in solar power capacity nationwide.

But in 2016, the industry added between 1,600 and 1,700 new jobs.

“(We) had a great year last year,” said Patrick Altier, a solar contractor. “In addition to the projects that are in the pipeline, we anticipate at least a 200 percent increase over last year’s production.”

Altier, who also serves as the president of the Florida Solar Industries Association, said his business in Ocala increased four-fold last year.

But lawmakers still have to implement Amendment Four, which prohibits tax assessors from adding solar improvements to the value of a business.

Part of the dilemma with Amendment Four is figuring out how much the amendment will cost state and local governments.

“I think if there is any pushback, it’s from the small counties who want to make sure the projects they implement are still on their books,” said state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. “That’s the overriding concern we are hearing right now.”

Last fall, utilities spent more than $20 million on a losing campaign to restrict solar, but the industry said all that cash had the opposite effect.

“It gave the solar industry a lot of free advertising at the end of the day -- more frustration with the utilities,” Altier said.

The industry said solar is still growing and creating jobs.

Since voter approval, Solar City, the largest solar company in America, has opened offices in Florida.