New Mexico indeed is the Land of Enchantment. And like much of the Southwestern United States, New Mexico is blessed with abundant sunshine. It is precisely because they enjoy more than 300 days a year of unencumbered sunshine that many of the state’s residents have taken an interest in solar energy.
This is certainly an exciting and accessible renewable energy source that stands to diversify how people power their homes and businesses. Unfortunately, as with any new industry, bad actors have cropped up exhibiting poor business practice sand deceiving unsuspecting customers. To protect New Mexicans as the use of solar power expands, Gov. Susana Martinez recently signed into law a measure by state Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, and state Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española, titled the Solar Consumer Bill of Rights (Senate Bill 210/House Bill 199).
The law will work to protect consumers while also providing support for the solar industry by ushering in revenue, jobs and environmental benefits to New Mexico. It is important to note that the advent of solar energy has provided the state a host of benefits, but with those come some challenges that this law seeks to address. Some of New Mexico’s most vulnerable consumers, at risk from those bad actors in the industry, are in minority and low-income communities.
As the president and chief executive officer of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, I am thrilled the governor has made this legislation into law, because it has the interests of the small business community at heart. At the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, we work to identify and remedy challenges to American businesses and to the Hispanic community as a whole. The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce helps stimulate economic growth, development and interests of more than 4.2 million Hispanic-owned businesses that contribute over $668 billion to the American economy every year. It is our mission to ensure reasonable policies are being implemented so that our community is fairly represented.
Deciding to partake in solar energy is a big decision. It is not a cheap investment and can cost upward of $50,000, a hefty expense for middle-class families, let alone those in lower-income communities. In addition, leasing contracts for solar equipment can also last up to two decades. This new law will help educate all consumers so they recognize potential risks when choosing a company. Some of the more common complaints from homeowners include misrepresentations about total system cost; interest and payment schedules; confusion about the role of the utility; and improper and potentially dangerous installation and maintenance.
The bottom line is that the Consumer Solar Bill of Rights was thoughtfully developed with input from local and national solar providers, our local business community, Realtors and their associations, low-income advocates, the New Mexico Construction Industry Division and state legislative officials. This was a strong collaborative effort from a variety of stakeholders to cover a broad area of concerns — including those affecting minority communities. I am very happy New Mexico has instituted this policy into law, so that all its citizens can enjoy the benefits of solar power and ensure that New Mexico continues to be … the Land of Enchantment!
Javier Palomarez is president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C.