Solar industry creating jobs in Florida

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - It was cloudy and rainy Wednesday for the fledgling solar industry as they held a "Solar Day" in the state capital, but the weather didn't dampen the industry's business outlook for the Sunshine State.

Florida's solar industry says 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. I mean, this is really the big year for Florida," said Vote Solar's Scott Thomasson.

Florida has never lived up to its nickname. It is 14th in capacity nationwide.

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

Patrick Altier is the president of the Florida Solar Industries Association. He's also an Ocala solar contractor. He says his business increased four-fold last year.

"[I] had a great year last year. In addition to the projects that are in the pipeline, we anticipate at least a 200 percent increase over last year's production," he said.

Lawmakers still have to implement Amendment Four. And part of their dilemma is figuring out how much the amendment will cost state and local governments.

Senator Jeff Brandes said, "I think if there is any push back, it's from the small counties who want to make sure the projects they implement are still on their books. 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 says 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," said Altier.

While solar found cloudy skies at the capitol Wednesday, the industry says it is still shining, growing, and creating jobs, thanks to the message that voters sent.

Amendment Four prohibits tax assessors from adding solar improvements to the value of a business. Since voter approval, Solar City, the largest solar company in America, has opened offices in Florida.