BATON ROUGE -- The state Legislature moved a step closer Thursday to fixing a mistake from 2015 that prevented more than 1,000 Louisiana solar panel customers from collecting an estimated $15.7 million in refundable tax credits.
A Senate committee approved a slightly more limited version of a bill that passed the House last month, 97-0. It now goes to the full Senate floor.
The bill would end the solar tax credit program, which has run out of money anyway. But it also promises to pay the tax refunds – typically $12,500 each – to anyone who hasn’t received one yet, as long as they installed their solar panels by the end of 2015.
An amendment added Thursday would give the state three years to pay the refunds to eligible taxpayers, rather than having to pay them in a single lump sum. That means someone who qualified for a $12,500 credit but was denied because of the cap would get a check for about $4,167 after July 1, then another check after July 1, 2018, and a third after July 1, 2019.
John Neilson, a solar customer from Mansfield, La., who installed his panels in early 2015, said he would have preferred to get the single check for the full amount, as was originally promised, but he also understood that the state is struggling to cut costs and can’t afford to fix the mistake all at once.
“I know it’s impossible for the legislators to know everything about every bill, so things like this slip through the cracks,” he told WWL-TV in an interview following Thursday’s committee vote. “So I’m pleased they looked back at the mistake and went this far to correct it.”
Neilson testified several times to urge the Legislature to accept that it retroactively took the credits away from taxpayers. He even noted that he’s against the state spending money on such credit programs, but participated in the solar program because “it was too good a deal to pass up.” Then he had the “rug pulled out from under me.”
“You might as well change the speed limit to 55 right now and give me a ticket for speeding two years ago,” Neilson said in his House testimony last month.
Several legislators have already acknowledged they made a mistake. They said they didn’t realize that imposing the cap starting in July 2015 would cause some of those who installed the panels in the first half of 2015 to be denied credits when the state finally allowed them to apply for them in 2016.
Several lawmakers filed similar bills this year to fix that snafu, and the version that passed the House last month promised to pay anyone who installed the panels by June 30, 2016. The Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee amended House Bill No. 187 on Thursday to limit the refunds to those who installed the panels by Dec. 31, 2015.
Jeff Cantin, head of the Gulf States Renewable Energy Industry Association, said he doesn’t think very many people installed panels in 2016 and expected to get a credit, because by that point, most installers were notifying customers that the cap was in place and limited their ability to collect a refund.