Solar leaders rally at Capitol against taxes on leased panels

2014-06-05T00:00:00Z Solar leaders rally at Capitol against taxes on leased panelsBy Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star

PHOENIX — Leaders of the state’s solar industry called on Gov. Jan Brewer Wednesday to overrule a decision by her Revenue Department that leased rooftop panels are taxable. They called it unfair and said they fear a loss of business.

Barry Goldwater Jr., chairman of the industry-sponsored group called Tell Utilities Solar Won’t be Killed (or TUSK) said the state agency acted improperly in deciding that leased panels are subject to the state’s property tax on business-owned equipment. He said this is an improper interpretation of Arizona law and that Brewer should intercede.

“I’m asking Governor Brewer: Tear down this tax,” he said at a rally Wednesday at the Capitol populated largely by industry employees but including retired homeowners from Sun City and elsewhere who have leased solar panels.

But gubernatorial spokesman Andrew Wilder said that’s not going to happen. Wilder said Brewer is confident in the legal conclusion reached by the Revenue Department that the panels, when leased, are subject to property taxes.

“Inappropriate requests are being made of the governor to interfere and strong-arm the Department of Revenue,” he said.

But Goldwater insisted that Brewer, as the state’s chief executive, is free to tell a state agency when she believes it has gotten something wrong. “They work for her,” he said.

The $13 a month in taxes the Revenue Department says would be due on a typical leased residential system would cut into —and potentially wipe out — the monthly savings on utility bills that companies use to persuade homeowners to sign up for the leases in the first place.

The tax question arose because the industry, finding many customers unable or unwilling to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to purchase a system, has adopted a model of leasing the devices to consumers.

The panels are guaranteed to generate a certain amount of power for the lease payments.

There is also the promise of lower utility bills, at least in part because homeowners can sell the excess of what they use back to the utilities.

State law is clear that a panel owned by a homeowner is not subject to property tax.

Sean Laux, spokesman for the Revenue Department, said leased panels remain the property of the leasing companies.

“This equipment is being used to generate electricity for sale,” he said. That means they legally are no different for tax purposes than a power plant, solar or otherwise, owned by a utility, he said.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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