Community solar is back in front of the state Legislature, but this time it’s bringing an army of support.
The sponsors of this year’s community solar bill spent the summer listening to a diverse array of stakeholders to craft a bill ensuring all New Mexicans will benefit from community solar.
So, it should come as no surprise that community solar is supported by one of the state’s largest, most diverse coalitions to ever back an energy program. There is a groundswell of support for community solar because it democratizes solar, brings new economic stimulus and tax revenue to the state, gives more people a chance to go solar and reduce their utility bills, gives farmers opportunities to diversify their income, and creates good jobs in every county across the state.
Despite overwhelming support and momentum for community solar, there is one special interest group that continues to oppose the program: New Mexico’s investor-owned utilities.
As the bill makes its way through the Roundhouse, it is important to dispel the misleading and arcane arguments from the bill’s only opponent.
Argument 1: Community solar shifts costs to nonparticipating ratepayers.
This is simply untrue.
We have known for years that local solar projects bring benefits to the system, and myriad studies have proven their value to the system exceeds costs. The latest and most technologically advanced utility planning models show that local solar projects do not shift costs, and scaling them can actually save the grid — and all ratepayers — money. That’s because these projects reduce the need for unnecessary ratepayer-backed investments on costly power plants, transmission and distribution infrastructure with more flexible local power in the system.
What’s more, under current state law, community solar developers pay utilities hundreds of thousands of dollars per project in interconnection and administrative fees. These fees will be used to upgrade and modernize areas of the grid that are difficult to maintain.
Argument 2: Projects can be built anywhere and utilities are forced to purchase the energy.
Utilities don’t actually “buy” the subscribed power produced by a community solar facility. Subscribers buy the power from the community solar facility and utilities are fairly compensated for their infrastructure, which is used to deliver the community solar power to the customers. Subscribers then receive a fair credit for that power equivalent to the utility’s generation and transmission costs, which are significantly reduced thanks to the new community solar being generated.
Also, community solar projects can’t be built anywhere. They must be interconnected in the same utility service area as the subscribers. They are locally sited and must abide by local zoning and permitting laws. This puts power back into our local communities to decide how these projects get brought to life in their community.
Argument 3: With the Energy Transition Act, why do we need community solar?
New Mexico has ambitious goals with the Energy Transition Act. But to meet these goals and build a grid that is low-cost, reliable and ready for the 21st century, we need to scale both utility and smaller, local solar simultaneously. Local solar won’t replace utility-scale generation, it will complement it.
The time for old arguments is over
It’s time we finally give all customers access to affordable renewable energy. It’s time we rebuild our economy and get hardworking New Mexicans back to work. It’s time we modernize our electric grid. It’s time to provide opportunities to farmers and rural communities. And it’s time we dispel the misleading and arcane arguments from the only opponents of community solar.
It’s time to pass the people’s bill and bring community solar to New Mexico.