New Mexico’s community solar program ‘potentially stalled for years to come’

New Mexico

Just after publishing this piece on the value of community solar and the role policymakers have in realizing that value, we received word that the Southwestern Public Service Company (SPS) is close to de-railing implementation of New Mexico’s long-awaited community solar program.

According to Vote Solar and Coalition of Sustainable Communities New Mexico, after an agreed upon stakeholder vetting process for community solar lasting more than one year, SPS has filed an appeal to the New Mexico Supreme Court of the Public Regulation Commission’s (PRC) orders adopting a final rule for the program.

In addition, SPS just filed with the PRC a Motion to Stay the implementation of the final rule pending the resolution of SPS’s appeal to the Supreme Court, an effort that could potentially stall the community solar program for years.

The Community Solar Act passed in the 2021 Legislative Session, and customers, cities, and landowners have long awaited the completion of the rulemaking process by the PRC.

SPS’ last-ditch moves come after the PRC held an open and transparent years-long stakeholder process that was based on a clear mandate passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and included participation from organizations and businesses across the state.

“At a moment when New Mexicans need lower energy bills as fast as possible and the state needs jobs and economic growth, Xcel Energy — through its subsidiary SPS — is trying every trick in the book to thwart the community solar program and deny us the opportunity to experience the economic and environmental benefits of a community solar program,” said Mayane Barudin, Interior West Senior Regulatory Director with Vote Solar.

“Despite years of stakeholder engagement to arrive at the rules published on July 12, SPS is drawing from its bottomless supply of ratepayer money to tangle this program in legal delays and ultimately kill it. Make no mistake about it: this utility’s actions will hurt the most vulnerable New Mexicans who stand to benefit most significantly as subscribers,” said Beth Beloff, Director of the Coalition of Sustainable Communities New Mexico.

The community solar program rulemaking process has been lengthy and robust with many opportunities for stakeholder involvement and feedback, including:

  • Legislative (SM63) Stakeholder Working Group meetings from June to November 2020
  • Legislative process during the 2021 Session from January to March with prework in December
  • The bill passed 2 Senate committees, 2 House committees and floor votes in both houses
  • PRC workgroup process lead by Strategen from June to October 2021
  • PRC rulemaking process from November 2021 to May of 2022
  • Rules published by the PRC July 12, 2022

“This was an open and transparent process, involving dozens of organizations and individuals that took place over two years,” said Senator Liz Stefanics, the prime sponsor of the Community Solar Act and the convener of the legislative working group. “For SPS – Excel to try to circumvent the will of the public prevents our communities from moving forward with the creation of solar projects to meet renewable energy goals.”

“The Supreme Court should dismiss this case and the PRC should immediately move forward implementing the community solar program as the Legislature intended. This is an egregious abuse of the regulatory and judicial process and a waste of stakeholders’ time and ratepayer money. The climate crisis we face daily gives evidence that renewable energy and community solar are the only way to save our planet. After all, without our planet, what else matters?” remarked Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, a House sponsor of community solar legislation.

Through community solar, customers can enjoy equal access to the benefits of solar generation by subscribing to small local solar arrays and supporting local solar development. They then receive a credit on their utility bill for their share of the power that is produced.

“The actions by SPS threaten to sink community solar in New Mexico before it gets started,” said Kevin Cray. “The community solar industry stands ready to deliver on the intent of the Community Solar Act and create bill savings for thousands of customers, deploy hundreds of millions of dollars across the state, and bring benefits to all ratepayers.”

Community solar is a key component of clean energy access and equity because up to 75 percent of New Mexican households cannot connect with solar power because they either rent, live in a multi-tenant building or are otherwise unable to host a solar system.

Enacted in 2021, New Mexico became the 21st state to adopt a Community Solar Program. Projects are capped at 5 MW and will expand access to community solar to disadvantaged communities, with a carve out of 30 percent of capacity per project dedicated to low-income customers and service organizations.

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