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Fate of surviving solar bills in Martinez’s hands

March 25, 2017 GMT

Despite an onslaught of renewable energy bills introduced during the recent session of the state Legislature, few made it to Gov. Susana Martinez.

Senate Bill 227, which was approved by the Legislature and sent to Martinez, would require the state to develop energy efficiency rules and request proposals for how to incorporate more renewable energy into state-owned buildings.

Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, who sponsored the measure, said New Mexico has been overlooking this cost-saving measure on the majority of its more than 700 buildings. Fewer than five utilize solar power.

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The bill also would help to create more solar installation jobs and modernize how the state uses energy, he said.

“I personally feel climate change is a massive threat and that we need to be developing a more forward-looking strategy for the state,” Steinborn said.

Also making it to Martinez’s desk were Senate Bill 210 and House Bill 199. Both would require solar companies to comply with extensive disclosures to homeowners considering installation.

The legislation faced criticism from some environmental groups, and support from local solar companies was divided. Critics said it was aimed more at stifling solar industry growth by scaring potential customers than it was at protecting consumers.

Among the renewal energy bills that failed in the Legislature were House Bill 338 and Senate Bill 342. They would have encouraged residents and commercial businesses to invest in “solar gardens.” Renters of homes could have purchased shares in solar energy production.

“It’s a great environmentally friendly model because it is utilizing what we are rich in in the state, which is solar energy, and it is providing it for those who would typically not be able to afford solar rooftop” panels, said sponsor Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque.

Other renewable energy bills that failed in the Legislature:

• Senate Bill 41 and House bills 82 and 61 would have reintroduced a tax credit for individuals or businesses that install rooftop solar panels through 2024.

• House Bill 193 sought to reintroduce the solar tax credit and create a new corporate income tax credit for solar market development.

• House Bill 440 and Senate Bill 432 would have extended a renewable energy production tax credit through 2023. More than 50 facilities are on a waitlist to take advantage of the credit before it expires in 2018.

• Senate Bill 312 would have laid out new renewable energy standards for public utilities. If the bill had become law, utilities would have been required to increase their usage of renewable energy by 3 percent per year in order to reach 80 percent total energy generation through renewables by 2040.

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• Senate Bill 360 sought more scrutiny over how utility companies select their energy resources and make power purchases, including an independent review of a utility’s integrated resource plan.

• Senate Bill 248 would have required utility companies and electric cooperatives to participate in solar projects planned by local governments, schools and others.

• House Bill 406 would have amended the Renewable Energy Act to include nuclear energy within the definition of renewable energy.

Despite the failure of many renewable energy bills, some lawmakers said they were optimistic about renewable energy development moving forward in New Mexico.

Xcel Energy announced this week it will invest $1.6 billion in wind farms in Eastern New Mexico and West Texas. And Public Service Company of New Mexico said recently it is considering closing down the San Juan Generating Station as soon as 2022, at which point it may incorporate more renewable energy. A data center powered by renewable energy is also in the works in Los Lunas for social media giant Facebook.

Better legislation could encourage more companies to build renewable-energy powered businesses in New Mexico and help delay climate change by reducing fossil-fuel emissions, said Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque.

Without more clean energy bills passing, she said, “It delays growth in the renewable energy fields. It delays help with the pollution.”

Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, said, “For this type of legislation, oftentimes it take one or more [years] for people to get behind it. … There is no doubt in my mind that as time marches on, so will our commitment to renewable energy.”

Contact Rebecca Moss at 505-986-3011 or rmoss@sfnewmexican.com.