It was inevitable.
(Heartlander Magazine) Two solar energy trade groups are suing Riverside County, California over a new surcharge on large solar power projects. The surcharge is an annual fee of $450 per acre on large-scale solar projects.
The Large-Scale Solar Association (LSA) and the California Independent Energy Producers Association (IEP) filed suit on Feb. 3 in Riverside County’s Desert Judicial District. The trade groups argue Board Policy B-29, often referred to as the “Sun Tax,” violates tax-hiking restrictions contained in Proposition 26 and fails to conform to the California Mitigation Fee Act.
“The Sun Tax not only discourages the development of solar energy projects in Riverside County—it does so by violating the California Constitution,” said Shannon Eddy, executive director of the LSA, in a press statement.
Central to the lawsuit is the assertion the surcharge is a tax rather than a fee. Proposition 26, which clarifies the differences between new taxes and new fees, requires all new taxes be approved by a two-thirds majority vote. According to Prop 26, a fee is collected for a specific purpose related to the surcharge, while a tax is a more general collection of revenue.
“A charge by a governmental entity that is not associated with a specific service provided is a tax,” said Jan Smutny-Jones, executive director of the IEP.
According to the trade groups, Riverside County has attempted to distinguish its policy from a tax by characterizing it as an impact fee designed to compensate the county for any environmental and financial effects of solar development. However, the California Mitigation Fee Act prevents the county from charging a fee unless there’s a connection to actual impacts.
“The county has never shown a connection between the fee and actual impacts,” said Eddy, noting the money raised would go directly to the Board’s general fund rather than to alleviate impacts.