Solar energy supported by New Mexico Senate bills, offer tax credit and improve access

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus

New Mexico lawmakers are pushing to increase accessibility to solar power amid the State’s efforts to increase its renewable energy portfolio as an alternative to reliance on oil and gas.

Efforts to increase renewable energy began in 2019, the year Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took office and introduced a series of legislation aimed at increasing New Mexico’s renewable portfolio and shifting the state away from carbon-emitting forms of power.

During her Tuesday State of the State address at the start of the 2020 Legislative Session, Lujan Grisham renewed her push for clean energy and curbing pollution.

“We boosted common-sense oversight of polluters; and we put New Mexico on a direct path to being the nation’s clean energy leader, ensuring our land, air and water — our inheritance as residents of this incredible state — are passed on to future generations,” she said.

“We brought industry and environmental leaders together and we are moving forward on creating nation-leading rules that will curb methane pollution, create jobs and deliver more dollars into New Mexico classrooms.”

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Tax credit offered to solar users

Senate Bill 29 sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart (D-17 )and Rep. Matthew McQueen (D-50) would allow those who construct solar power facilities to apply for a tax credit from the State of New Mexico.

The credit could be up to 10 percent of the purchase and installation costs not to exceed $6,000.

The State would allow up to $10 million in solar tax credits to be appropriated each year.

“The purpose of the new solar market development income tax credit is to encourage the installation of solar thermal and photovoltaic systems in residences, businesses and agricultural enterprises,” read the bill.

More:New Mexico lawmakers renew push for renewable energy ahead of 2020 session

Community solar programs

Senate Bill 143, known as the Community Solar Act and sponsored by New Mexico Sen. Elizabeth Stefanics (D-39 ) and Rep. Patricia Royal Caballero (D-13), was intended to reduce some of the barriers New Mexicans could face in using solar power.

The bill would establish a “phased-in community solar program” to develop and interconnect solar facilities, allowing users to access solar power without having to install their own panels or generators.

A community solar facility, as prescribed in the bill, would have a capacity of 5 megawatts or less, be interconnected to New Mexico’s electrical grid for at least 10 subscribers and could be located adjacent to an energy storage facility.

More:New Mexico Native American tribe building solar farms amid state's renewable transition

Initially, a statewide cap of 200 megawatts would be imposed through 2023.

An organization subscribing to such a facility would be required to register with state regulators and make at least 40 percent of its total generating capacity available to subscriptions of 25 kilowatts or less.

Subscriptions must be in the same utility service territory as the facility and must supply no more than 120 percent of the average annual energy use by the subscriber at the registered location.

They also cannot take up more than 60 percent of the facility’s generating capacity and be transferable should the subscriber more within the same territory.

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Qualifying utilities providing community solar power would also add a credit toward subscribers’ electric bills based on their output.

The bill would also require the Public Regulation Commission to establish a community solar program by Nov. 1, 2020 to allow customers to voluntarily subscribe on a limited basis until a permanent program is phased in by the end of 2023.

The Commission would set dates for implementation of the program, define the required documentation and establish capacity caps.

More:Could New Mexico go solar? Bill provides tax relief for those giving it a shot

Is it worth it?

A Community Solar Assistance Fund would be created if the bill was passed, administered by the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department to oversee the development of the program.

Subscriber organizations could apply to the fund for financial assistance for low-income customers.

EMNRD was called upon, via the bill, to prioritize projects that serve Indian nations, tribes and pueblos, help low-income customers save money, and are operated by non-profits.

More:New Mexico wind energy projects advance renewable power agenda

To fund such efforts, SB 143 would appropriate $10 million from New Mexico’s General Fund to the Community Solar Assistance Fund for EMNRD to develop the program, hold stakeholder hearings and fund subsidies for low-income customers.

The funds would not revert to the General Fund at the end of the fiscal year.

SB 143 would also spend $100,000 for the Commission to hire a full-time employee to help implement the Act. Any remaining funds from that appropriation would be returned to the General Fund at the end of FY 2021.

A study form national solar advocacy group Vote Solar said community solar programs in New Mexico could create hundreds of jobs, and almost $250 million in economic impact.

More:New Mexico breaks oil production record in 2018, as renewable agenda continues in Santa Fe

The study showed such efforts would increase solar jobs in New Mexico by 34 percent, creating 728 full-time jobs and generating about $115.5 million in earnings for employees within the solar energy supply chain.

“Community solar makes solar energy an accessible, affordable option for renters, multi-family dwellings and people with shaded or unsuitable roofs, while eliminating the financial burden of rooftop solar,” said Mayane Barudin, interior west manager at Vote Solar.

“New Mexicans, especially those who feel excluded by the renewable energy transition, can benefit tremendously. Community solar creates local, good-paying jobs and economic development all while advancing us towards the clean energy future we need.”

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.