Groups advocating for an expansion of renewable energy in New Mexico pushed Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to sign the Community Solar Act into law after it passed the State Legislature last month during its 2021 lawmaking session.
The bill was hotly debated by mostly Democrat supporters who contended it would expand access to solar energy for low-income power users while opponents argued the bill could raise electricity rates and create regulatory uncertainty for utility companies.
If signed, the bill would create a community solar program in New Mexico, which would allow for smaller solar installations for multiple residential users or businesses such as renters or owners who cannot afford or lack the space for rooftop, residential panels.
Community solar developments, known as solar gardens, would require an anchor business and be capped at 10 subscribers per unit.
The bill in the form that passed the House 44-3 and the Senate 27-14 was the result of a working group established during the 2020 session by Senate Memorial 63 to fine-tune the proposal for the program itself after the Act was defeated.
In a March 30 letter to Lujan Grisham, sponsor Sen. Elizabeth Stefanics pointed to many months of “consensus building” during the six months the working group met, arguing the Act had widespread support.
She said community solar would also hasten progress toward achieving low carbon goals created by the Energy Transition Act, a law Lujan Grisham advocated and signed in 2019 that created yearly benchmarks toward a goal of 100 percent carbon-free electricity in New Mexico by 2045.
“This is a critical piece of legislation that is the result of many years of consensus building,” Stefanics wrote. “It will complement your landmark Energy Transition Act by more quickly deploying renewable energy projects and helping to achieve the lowest overall system costs.”
Community solar would also make solar energy more affordable and inclusive to lower income communities, she argued, and could provide economic benefits to local areas.
“This bill will also create thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic benefits across the state and expand clean energy access and bill savings to disenfranchised communities previously left out of the clean energy revolution, making New Mexico’s energy transition more equitable and just,” Stefanics wrote.
The sponsor also touted the diverse and large coalition of collaborators on the Act, including input from utility companies, state, local and tribal governments, environmental groups and the solar industry itself.
“The result was a consensus-based bill that eventually included a compromise with the investor-owned utilities on amendments to make them neutral on the bill,” the letter read. “Coming to a settlement with the utilities is what you and other legislators have been asking for, and we are proud Senate Bill 84 delivers that.”
In a petition signed by 1,119 organizations and residents across the state and sent to the New Mexico Senate ahead of the bill’s passage, supporters argued community solar was essential to a transition toward more renewable energy sources and away from fossil fuels.
The petitioners pointed to $517 million in economics they said community solar could bring to New Mexico.
“Right now, most New Mexicans are left out of the clean energy transition because only rooftop solar is widely available,” the petition read. “Community solar provides a way for every New Mexican to access clean energy, and the health and economic benefits that come from cleaner air, more jobs, and energy savings.”
Lujan Grisham Press Secretary Nora Meyers Sacket dismissed any concern of the governor not signing the bill, pointing to more than 130 bills waiting to be signed with an April 9 deadline.
The governor recently called a special session to push a bill to legalize recreational marijuana, which passed both the House and Senate and awaits her signature as well.
Sackett said the Community Solar Act and others would be vetted following the special session and that the governor strongly supports and expansion of renewable energy in New Mexico.
“It would be premature to comment before that vetting has been done but it is all part of the process of reviewing the bills for conflicts and weighing the potential benefits and risks to New Mexicans,” Sackett said on Tuesday.
“The governor has been clear and steadfast in her support for dramatically expanding renewables and the associated economic opportunity for our state as part of an all-of-the-above energy approach, and you can expect action on bills early next week and potentially late this week.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, email@example.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.
Read More: New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham urged to sign Community Solar Act