Community solar would bring jobs, electricity bill savings for New Mexicans

Santa Fe, NM -- Senator Liz Stefanics (D-39) and Representative Patricia Roybal Caballero (D-13) filed new legislation that would allow New Mexicans to participate in local community solar projects and join rooftop solar owners in the financial benefits of the solar energy market. The Community Solar Act [SB 143/HB 9] would bring a phased-in community solar program to New Mexico with an initial statewide capacity cap of 200 megawatts over the next three years. 

The Act is intended to remove obstacles to going solar and realize the on-the-ground benefits of the Energy Transition Act. SB 143/HB 9 encourages low-income households to participate by reserving 30% of the initial program cap for low-income projects. The Act also provides cap exemptions for Indian tribes, nations and pueblos so that native communities and tribal members can fully benefit from community solar.

“Low-income and Native families have the most to gain from lower energy bills and more energy freedom,” said Mayane Barudin, Interior West Manager at Vote Solar and member of Santo Domingo Pueblo. “New Mexico’s Native communities have long borne environmental injustices and the costs of reckless oil and gas drilling. The Community Solar Act will make it easier for Native communities to choose a new, clean path for energy security and energy sovereignty.”

Community solar removes economic barriers that prevent New Mexicans from benefiting from local solar energy. Currently, rooftop solar is limited to households or businesses who are building owners and who have a suitable roof. Community solar opens up the solar energy market to renters and people with shaded or unsuitable roofs, truly expanding access for all in the state.

“New Mexico is long overdue to establish a community solar program that will help its families and businesses participate in solar energy,” said Kevin Cray, Midwest Regional Director for the Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA). “Community solar legislation was first introduced in New Mexico in 2013 and has yet to come to fruition. Since then, nearly 20 states have enacted community solar programs across the country. It's time to unlock the economic and environmental benefits of community solar for all New Mexican families and businesses.”

Vote Solar conducted a Jobs and Economic Development Impact analysis of the Community Solar Act using a model developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The analysis found that the development of 200 megawatts of community solar over the next three years that would serve approximately 11,700 customers and: 

  • Increase solar jobs in New Mexico by 34% 
  • Create 728 sustained full-time jobs during the near-term construction period
  • Generate $115.5 million in earnings for those employed across the solar supply chain
  • Create $240 million in local economic benefits for the state, not including local tax revenues

With community solar, participants can buy, lease or subscribe to a share of an off-site solar array and receive a proportional credit on the electricity bill. The 30% low-income carve-out will ensure everyone, regardless of their home type, location or income can enjoy the full health and economic benefits of solar energy.

“Local governments in the state are extremely supportive of this opportunity for greater community access to solar, as well as greater choice of solar options for all,” said Beth Beloff, Executive Director, Coalition of Sustainable Communities New Mexico. “We support the low-income emphasis and providing community solar energy subsidies for low-income  households. Further, community solar should increase local economic development opportunities.” 

Under the Community Solar Act, the Public Regulation Commission will establish a rule by November 1, 2020 wherein: 

  • project size is set at a maximum of 5 MW
  • an initial capacity of 200 MW by 2023
  • customers with rooftop solar will be able to participate
  • it creates a $10 million “Community Solar Assistance Fund” for low-income customers
  • it offers a unique opportunity for program review and improvement 

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