There has been a considerable push for renewable energies in New Mexico, but a community solar act stands in the way of expansion. Renewable energy advocates have urged Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to sign the aptly titled Community Solar Act into law. The insistence comes a month after the act was approved by State Legislature in March 2021. Though Gov. Grisham has been hesitant to sign the act into law, there is ample support from individuals and groups looking to expand the reach of community solar options.
Primary among those looking to push through the Community Solar Act are Democrats that see it as a means of closing the gap to clean energy. Currently, for homeowners to guarantee themselves access to renewable solar energy, they have to purchase, construct, and maintain private solar panels. This costly endeavor isn’t always possible in some homes, especially those with roofs that can’t accommodate the sizable installation. The act would allow underserved communities and low-income homeowners to take advantage of the cost-saving electricity option.
However, the Community Solar Act is also hotly contested. Those speaking out against it fear that by introducing low-cost community solar, they could see an increase in their power rates. Additionally, opponents fear that the act could create a sense of uncertainty when it comes to regulations and utility companies.
Should Gov. Grisham sign the act and make it law, it would allow developers to move into New Mexico and start erecting community solar installations. The Community Solar Act would lead to a larger community solar program that would encompass individual installations across the state. Each installation, likely owned by different developers, would help homeowners receive clean, renewable energy. These homeowners, small businesses, and renters will benefit from a program that subverts the need for private solar panels.
According to the Community Solar Act, any development created under the newly formed community solar program would need to be tied to an anchor business. Additionally, it would only be able to accommodate 10 participants per unit. Each participant would not only take part in creating clean energy, but they will also receive a monthly credit toward their utility bill. Generally, the credit is 10% of their total bill.
The Community Solar Act that passed the House and Senate by a wide margin originated via a working group that was created in 2020 by Senate Memorial 63. The act was initially defeated before Senate Memorial 63 reviewed and recommended changes that allowed it to move forward.
In support of passing the Community Solar Act, Senator Elizabeth Stefanics reached out to Gov. Grisham via letter. Her March 30 correspondence noted that the act was the result of “consensus-building” over the course of six months. According to Stefanics, the group frequently met to create proposed legislation that best suited the community and would receive considerable support.
Sen. Stefanics was also sure to point out the environmental perks of community solar. In her letter to the governor, she noted that community solar is a quicker ticket to reducing the state’s carbon emissions. The Energy Transition Act, which Gov. Grisham stood behind and signed in 2019, calls for a complete reduction of carbon emissions by 2045, with the state running 100% on carbon-free power.
Stefanics feels that the Community Solar Act is crucial to achieving this goal and was sure to highlight this point to the governor. Her letter reads that it’s would serve as a “complement” the Energy Transition Act by speeding up the development of renewable energy facilities. Trying to garner further support from the governor and sway her decision, Stefanics continued in her letter by saying that the act would also lead to the creation of “thousands of jobs.”
In a post-COVID world, employment opportunities are still harder to come by. The construction and operation of community solar projects would help many receive employment. Much like it would with families participating in the program, community solar would serve as a financial perk to anyone capable of working on any of the many available positions. Additionally, those in favor of the act state that the passing of the legislation could result in $517 million filtered into New Mexico’s economy.
As much as the advocates may be pushing the governor to sign the bill, it may not even be an issue that needs advocating. According to Gov. Grisham’s Press Secretary Nora Meyers Sacket, she already has more than 120 bills that need to be signed by April 9. Sacket reassured that the Community Solar Act would undergo the same vetting process after a special session. Sacket also confirms that Gov. Grisham is in strong support of the community solar industry and would like to see more opportunities come to the state.
In her statement, Sacket noted that Gov. Grisham has remained “clear and steadfast” when it comes to supporting the development of clean and renewable energy. Moreso, the governor would appreciate the economic benefits that such a project has on the communities they serve.
According to Sacket, the governor plans on reviewing the Community Solar Act “early next week,” with a potential for review shortly before the weekend. Though neither the governor nor her press secretary were 100% clear on an answer of where Grisham is leaning, her voting history and previous support of environmentally sound projects indicate she is likely to pass the act, barring any unforeseen issues that may be built into it.