As the state Public Regulation Commission prepares to launch a program to make solar energy available to more people, some companies say additional work is needed before it starts.

The complex program deals with a fairly simple concept: Community solar aims to provide a solar energy option to those in apartment complexes, those who can’t afford solar panels and those whose roofs aren’t situated properly to handle solar panels.

Customers, proponents say, would acquire electricity through a community solar facility.

The Legislature passed the Community Solar Act last year and assigned the Public Regulation Commission to adopt rules for the program by April 1. The commission met that deadline.

Public Service Company of New Mexico is among those asking the commission to reopen hearings to clarify elements of the rules. Others making a similar request are Southwestern Public Service Co., El Paso Electric Co., PowerMarket and Cypress Creek Renewables. The latter two are national solar entities.

The commission is expected to consider Southwestern’s and El Paso’s concerns during a meeting Wednesday and possibly the concerns of other companies at a meeting later on.

“Throughout this proceeding, PNM has continually expressed that it supports the community solar program and is striving for a successful implementation of the program,” the utility wrote in a filing with the commission.

“Successful implementation of community solar must be premised on rules that carry out the mandates of the Act in a clear and unambiguous fashion,” PNM added. “The adopted rules do not accomplish this.”

PNM urged the commission to “reopen the record, permit at least one more round of comments and reply comments, and provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to appear and be heard at a workshop.”

Not everyone agreed this is needed. The Coalition for Community Solar Access filed a brief with the commission saying it should not “needlessly delay the program.”

The coalition says the commission had to adopt rules speedily and commended it “for acting with deliberate haste to establish the Community Solar program.”

The rules written by the commission “represent a remarkable achievement, given the amount of information before the Commission and the urgency required by the Legislature,” the coalition said.

Kevin Cray, Mountain West regional director for the Coalition for Community Solar Access, said reopening hearings isn’t necessary. He said “a handful of tweaks” to the rules would suffice.“By and large, I think the commission did a fabulous job,” Cray said.

Christian Casillas, director of policy development for the Coalition of Sustainable Communities New Mexico, said Monday the utility companies make some reasonable points, but they can be handled during the implementation phase.

The utilities’ complaints “certainly give the impression that they are trying to slow down the process,” Casillas said. “And that’s not necessary.”

Problems PNM and other companies have with the commission’s rules include:

u The commission plans to hire a third-party administrator to select developers.

u Adequate consumer protection isn’t built into the rules.

u Details on how projects connect to the existing electricity grid need to be clarified.

u Clarification is needed on whether all tenants in an affordable housing complex must consent to participate in a community solar program.

u Clarity is necessary on how a customer proves he or she is low-income. That is important because the state law requires 30 percent of the electricity from each solar facility to be reserved for low-income customers.

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