New Mexico lawmakers are preparing to introduce a bill in the upcoming 2021 Legislative Session to allow for community solar developments in the state, after such legislation was defeated in last year’s regular session.
In the 2020 session, lawmakers did approve Senate Memorial 63, which called on the state to create a community solar working group to study the concept and its application in New Mexico.
Community solar allows multiple small-scale power customers such as residents to tap into solar installations near their communities and interconnect utility grids. They would buy or lease part of the facility, receiving the economic benefits such as credits on their electricity bills along with the environmental benefits for their communities.
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The program would make solar power available to more customers, providing a larger-scale, cheaper option than users installing their own solar arrays on their homes but also allowing widespread use of solar power on a scale smaller than large utilities.
The working group created by SM 63 and made up of lawmakers, power companies and other groups and stakeholders released its report ahead of the session which convenes on Jan. 19.
In developing the report, the group met every other week from mid-July to early November, distributing surveys to members and discussing how the program could work.
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As of Tuesday, no community solar legislation was pre-filed by the House or Senate.
But most participants favored creating a community solar program, the report read, as many customers cannot install rooftop solar. The report identified low-income families, renters and Native American tribes as potential customers that would need the program to access solar power.
Electric co-ops said they would support the bill if given the option to opt-in to the program, only required to offer community solar if most customers desire it.
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The Tribal Community Solar Task Force was also held in parallel with the state’s working group, calling for a community solar program to recognize Tribal Nations’ sovereignty status and that they are not subject to state jurisdiction on Indian land, the report read.
The Tribal task force also called on the program to support rural electric subdivision cooperatives that serve Indian nations, tribes and pueblos while recognizing the “unique governmental, communal and land ownership status of tribal nations” while structuring the program to ensure Native American groups are able to participate, read the report.
“The issues involved in adopting community solar programs are complex, and considerable differences remain among the participants,” the report read. “
“The working group process has confirmed, however, that many stakeholders want New Mexico to join the other 20 states and the District of Columbia that have adopted legislation enabling such programs to provide the benefits they offer.”
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While the study found there was support and need for community solar in providing affordable electricity and economic benefit to rural and tribal communities, the working group found utilities were concerned for increased costs and grid management challenges if required to offer the program.
“It can provide economic stimulus for tribal nations, farmers and landowners in rural communities and small towns through land leases or sales for the community solar facilities as well as through increased property taxes,” the report read.
“Electric cooperatives may have concerns if the contractual obligations from their energy providers place limits on local generation, as well as more expensive generation costs of community solar facilities compared to larger utility scale solar facilities.”
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Mayane Barudin, interior west manager and tribal liaison for Vote Solar said New Mexico’s progress on community solar was encouraging for efforts to expand access to renewable energy across the state.
“All New Mexicans deserve to benefit from the renewable energy transition and have access to the solar savings. Community solar can help,” Barudin said. “The Working Group educated all stakeholders of the benefits of community solar and allowed all parties to genuinely learn, engage, and collaborate.
“We are now one step closer to all New Mexicans, especially tribal communities and low-income customers, realizing the full benefits of solar energy.”
Kevin Cray, mountain west regional director for the Coalition for Community Solar Access said the working group allowed stakeholders to be educated and collaborate on developing community solar in New Mexico and that the forthcoming legislation should enjoy widespread support when introduced.
“This was an important milestone that fulfills policymakers’ request, and now it’s time we bring this legislation across the finish line to bring economic relief to the hard working people of New Mexico,” Cray said.
“Community solar will provide the economic stimulus that New Mexicans desperately need right now while also expanding the benefits of renewable energy to all cities, tribes and pueblos, households and businesses across the state.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, firstname.lastname@example.org or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.
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This article originally appeared on Carlsbad Current-Argus: New Mexico lawmakers prepare to introduce 'community solar' bill in upcoming session
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