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At Tampa steel factory, Kathy Castor champions solar panel tax credits

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

When Congress extended solar panel tax credits in late 2015, environmentalists and solar power advocates gave a big sigh of relief.

But with the credits due to expire again in the next few years, Kathy Castor believes it’s crucial they are maintained for years to come.

The Tampa Democratic congresswoman appeared Monday morning at Tampa Tank Inc. — Florida Structural Steel, which in February installed the largest industrial photovoltaic system of its kind in Hillsborough County.

“They’re talking about a major tax reform package in the Congress, and this is an open question — will this (credit) be extended?” she told reporters after taking a tour of the facility, which included being strapped into a crane for a perspective of rooftop solar panels at Tampa Tank on East Tampa’s Adamo Drive.

Castor also noted the Trump administration’s so-called “skinny budget” includes significant cuts to the Department of Energy, including funding cuts to applied research and development to knock down high-risk energy technology challenges, something that would be eliminated.

Applied technology programs in renewables, efficiency, fossil energy, nuclear energy, and grid-related research and development would also be cut by an aggregate 45 percent, to allow them to focus on early stage technology research.

Tampa Tank Board Member David Reed said the half-megawatt installation project cost about $1 million, with a return of $300,000 in tax credits this year, as well as an ability to depreciate half the expenses in the first year.

Overall, Reed said it will take four-and-a-half years for the company to get a total payback, and then use the energy over the course of the next twenty-five years.

Another way many states provide to make solar panels more affordable is setting up net metering arrangements, allowing companies (like Tampa Tank) to sell excess electricity back to the energy grid.

However, Florida currently bans such third-party leasing.

To make panels affordable, many rooftop solar users rely on leases and net metering arrangements that let them sell excess electricity back onto the grid. But not all states — including the so-called Sunshine State — allow third-party leasing.

“The state of Florida makes it very difficult,” complained Castor. “They don’t let you sell excess power, and they put all of the power into the utilities. They need to allow greater incentives for alternative energy.”

Meanwhile, the cost of solar continues to decrease, and the efficiency increases. Some industry experts believe solar energy can and should stand on its own in the energy market, arguing that it has become commercially viable, but Castor disagrees, saying that it makes “all the sense in the world” to incentivize clean solar power.

“It’s so cheap compared to building a large nuclear power plant or building a new gas plant,” she said. “The cost of the solar panels are getting less expensive, and right now we have more jobs being created in renewable and solar power than in old fossil fuels.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at

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