More than half of new electric-generating capacity in the U.S for 2023 is projected to be solar, according to the Energy Information Administration, which ranks New Mexico’s abundant sunshine as third in the nation for solar energy potential behind Nevada and Arizona. The Community Solar Act is designed to ensure that the clean bounty of the sun’s energy is shared equitably in New Mexico.
Governor Michell Lujan Grisham signed the Community Solar Act of 2021 (SB84) into law on April 5, 2021, thus creating a 3-year statewide pilot program in community solar. What the bill did was to give locally created 5MW community solar facilities (CSFs) the ability to sell solar energy through subscriptions using the existing electrical grid system. Community solar subscription agreements generally offer discounted rates on electricity. Multiple residents, particularly low-income and home-renting customers, will be able to tap into the CSF and reap the benefits of solar power without the costs of installing their own panels.
The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC), along with InClime Inc., have apparently been doing a good job of providing educational resources to help counties obtain proposals for CSFs. They just announced they received 404 bids to build and operate CSFs following a three-month-long project solicitation period requesting proposals (RFP) from community solar subscriber organizations. Added together the RFP bids totaled more than 1,700 megawatts (MW) capacity of solar energy.
Getting Community Solar Up and Running
To participate, customers would buy subscription shares in the CSF to offset their monthly consumption of electricity. The bill currently caps community solar capacity at 200 megawatts statewide with 30 percent of each local solar facilities project serving low-income organizations and/or residents.
The Community Solar Act tasked the PRC with rule making, and they conducted multiple public meetings for input. Under the newly created regulations, the capacity of community solar facilities can be no more than 5 megawatts of alternating current and have at least 10 subscribers, with a single subscriber to be allocated no more than 40 percent of the generating capacity of the CSF.
InClime will now evaluate the 404 RFPs as the independent administrator for the community solar program, using a point system based on a set of non-price factors, including statutory requirements for subscriber organizations.
“The tremendous response to the community solar program RFP is an early indicator of program success, and we are thrilled by the overwhelming enthusiasm to meet New Mexico’s initial capacity limit,” Miana Campbell, InClime’s community solar lead for New Mexico, said in a press release.
InClime Inc. will also be administering public participation in the process, as well as future proposals and procedures. Their role will be to function in a consumer advocacy capacity ensuring the solar energy available through the program is utilized ethically. An announcement on final bid selections is expected to come in late April, however subscriptions will not be available until projects have been selected for the program. The Community Solar new pilot program ends in Nov 2024 and a statewide program would begin.
The Community Solar Act requires electric service providers to connect with CSFs and acquire all energy generated from CSFs. The electric service providers track consumed and excess energy, and energy carryover, billing accordingly. They also track and apply community solar bill credits for the CSF and subscribers.
The 200 MW allowed to be generated in the pilot project would be allocated among the state’s three investor-owned utility providers: El Paso Electric Company, 30 MW; Public Service Company of New Mexico, 125 MW; and Southwestern Public Service Company, 45 MW.
A breakdown of the 404 Community Solar RFP project responses by utility service area are: El Paso Electric Company: 49 bids, totaling 222 MW; Public Service Company of New Mexico: 219 bids, totaling 926 MW; Southwestern Power Service Company: 136 bids, totaling 598 MW.
The utility service companies will receive all renewable energy credits (RECs) associated with the CSFs development. RECs give companies, institutions and individuals a simple way to offset their carbon footprint and support clean energy.
A breakdown of project responses by county are: Bernalillo: 17 bids, Chaves: 25 bids, Curry: 26 bids, Dona Ana: 46 bids, Eddy: 27 bids, Grant: 18 bids, Hidalgo: 23 bids, Lea: 32 bids, Luna: 64 bids, McKinley: 1 bid, Otero: 31 bids, Quay: 10 bids, Roosevelt: 15 bids, San Miguel: 11 bids, Sandoval: 5 bids, Santa Fe: 11 bids, Sierra: 1 bid, Union: 5 bids, Valencia: 36 bids.
Solar Industry Growth in New Mexico
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association’s most recent data report for 2021, there were 2,013 solar jobs in the 86 solar companies, 14 manufacturers and 41 installers/developers in New Mexico’s solar energy industry. The amount of solar energy created from solar panels installed equaled 1,467 MW, which is enough to power 348,135 homes. Prices have fallen 52% over the last 10 years on solar panels helping to drive the total solar investment in the state to $2.7 billion in 2021. Growth in solar over the next 5 years is projected to be over 4,177 MW; enough to power 1,044,405 homes.
Some of the downsides to Community Solar are – you will not have access to any of the tax benefits of solar and you won’t own anything. In addition, there are some administrative costs and community solar is not available in all areas.
More information about New Mexico’s community solar program can be found at csnewmexico.com.