Two St. Pete lawmakers, an R and a D, file bills Duke Energy probably won't like

When State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Pete, ran for re-election last year, told this reporter he really wanted to go back to Tallahassee and be a champion for renewable energy, something lacking in the legislature, at least within the majority party.


It was taken, no offense to him, with a grain of salt, given the heated challenge he faced from the left in Democratic USF professor Judithanne MacLauchlan. It's a swing district, after all.

It appears he's following through, though, with a measure that would give tax breaks to businesses that install solar panels, in addition to homes that already have that benefit. As the Tampa Bay Times' Ivan Penn writes, the legislation "would reduce the real estate or personal property tax for solar installations and exempts devices that produce renewable energy from tangible property tax."

Maybe we should change the headline to "politician keeps campaign promise?"

"The Sunshine State should be the leader in solar energy," Brandes told the Times. "This legislation is designed to remove barriers to businesses so that they can enter this growing renewable energy market. Reducing burdensome taxes is a key component to fostering the solar energy market in Florida."

It's unclear whether there's a sponsor of its equivalent in the State House, but a grassroots petition drive could mean a constitutional amendment allowing individuals and businesses that aren't utilities to sell power generated through solar panels they own could be on the 2016 ballot.

It's an effort with bipartisan support, including Tea Party members and the Christian Coalition.

Speaking of petition drives for state constitutional amendments, State Rep. Dwight Dudley, a St. Pete Democrat, announced yesterday he is circulating one that would make it illegal for utilities to apply advanced cost recovery fees to consumers, or in other words, it would stop letting Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light bill customers for power plants that aren't even built yet, and may never be.

Dudley posted a photo of the petition on Twitter yesterday.

"Honoring Dr MLK with work on economic justice," he wrote. "Getting ready to launch unless Legislature repeals this bad law."

Dudley also filed a bill that would ban utilities from charging customers for the money it invests in fracking, Penn writes.

The measures are among a flurry of bills lawmakers have filed targeting utility company practices that basically vacuum money from consumer wallets, since utilities are essentially monopolies and most people need electricity service to, you know, like, live.

Public outrage last summer, which thankfully was also the lead-up to the midterm elections, caused many state lawmakers to disavow their cozy ties to Duke and other utilities, which contribute to many a campaign, and promise to do everything in their power to force utility companies to not be jerks.

Lawmakers have since filed bills to do everything from giving term limits to officials that oversee regulation of utilities to barring the companies from extending their billing cycles, then overcharging customers for it, as Duke did last summer. 

Hell, maybe the bills will even pass.

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