Circuit Court Judge John Jay Gontarek ruled Monday that Gulf Coast Solar Center LLC should pay Okaloosa County taxes on $7.625 million in tangible personal property.
VALPARAISO — The tax man cometh for the company that oversees operations at a solar power array on Eglin Air Force Base.
Circuit Court Judge John Jay Gontarek ruled Monday that Gulf Coast Solar Center LLC should pay Okaloosa County taxes on $7.625 million of its property at the Eglin site.
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The company, a subsidiary of Coronal Energy working on Eglin property in conjunction with the Gulf Power Company, filed suit in 2018 claiming to be exempt from tangible personal property taxes by virtue of its solar array having been constructed on federal land.
Tangible personal property taxes are assessed against items such as equipment and furnishings found at a business or rental property.
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Company officials argued that they had been assured in 2015, when considering development of a 240-acre parcel on federal Eglin property, they would not be subject to state imposed tangible personal property taxes.
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A letter stating as much, signed by then-Property Appraiser Pete Smith, was included as an exhibit within the original complaint.
"Gulf Coast relied upon the letter from Pete Smith ... in making its decision to enter into the sublease with Gulf Power Company and develop the solar project," the original legal complaint states.
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But Florida law regulating the taxation of renewable energy sources changed in 2018. The new law allows for taxation of 20 percent of the value of the tangible personal property at a solar power array site like the one at Eglin Air Force Base.
The Property Appraiser’s Office has estimated the value of the personal property at the Gulf Coast Solar Center facility to be $38,125,376, and calculated the property’s taxable value to be $7,625,075.
A motion for summary judgment filed last month on behalf of current Property Appraiser Mack Busbee disputed the Gulf Coast Solar contention that the recently passed Florida statute had no relevance. Gontarek sided with the county.
"We put their solar panels on our tangible personal property rolls and they said we didn’t have the right to do that," Busbee said. "Judge Gontarek ruled in our favor and said we did have that right."
J. Riley Davis, the attorney who represented Gulf Coast Solar Center LLC, did not return a phone call seeking comment. A spokeswoman for Coronal Energy did not return a phone call seeking comment.