New Mexico regulators work on rules for new solar program

January 6, 2022 GMT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission has until April to finish crafting rules for the state’s new community solar program, and the public has just a couple weeks left to weigh in.

The commission has held several workshops and meetings over the past year as part of the process. They were set to hear from members of the public Thursday, but only two people signed up. Commission staff said most interested parties have submitted comments in writing.

Under legislation approved in 2021, the commission was charged with creating a framework for community solar programs. That includes a cap on how large the programs can be within each utility and other requirements for utilities, developers and subscribers.

Community solar projects open the door for households and businesses that don’t have access to solar because they rent, don’t have the rooftop space or can’t afford the upfront costs of a photovoltaic system. Instead, developers build small, local solar facilities from which customers can subscribe and receive credit on their electricity bills for the power produced from their portion of the solar array.

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Advocates say their goal is to ensure all communities that want access to renewable energy can connect to community solar, especially low-income households and underserved areas.

Under the legislation, 30% of electricity produced from each community solar facility must be reserved for low-income customers and low-income service organizations.

Ona Porter, president and CEO of Prosperity Works, said during Thursday’s hearing that her Albuquerque-based nonprofit has partnered with community groups to get the word out about existing energy efficiency programs over the past couple of years. She said the challenges revolve around building trust, combatting misinformation and addressing costs.

She said most families her group works with have annual incomes of $25,000 or less and can’t benefit from tax rebates or wait to get reimbursed for any out-of-pocket expenses. She suggested that a fund be developed so people could subscribe to community solar at no cost.

Porter said regulators should also think about ways for low-income residents to participate in training and the renewable energy workforce as the state looks to address the affects of climate change by mandating more clean energy.

“We think this is really a huge opportunity,” she said.

More than 40 states have at least one community solar project online, with more than 3 gigawatts installed through the third quarter of 2021, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. The industry group estimates that the next five years will see the community solar market add more than 4 gigawatts nationwide.

Electricity consumption can vary by state and the size of a home, but 1 gigawatt would be enough to power roughly 10 million 100 watt light bulbs.