New Mexico has joined a six-state pilot community solar program created by the federal government as the state enacts its own state-level regulations to bring solar power and savings on electric bills to low-income customers.
Community solar projects allow electricity customers who cannot afford to install their own solar panels or rent their homes, to tap into facilities called “solar gardens”, which are smaller than solar farms. large scale, but can serve multiple customers simultaneously.
In New Mexico, the Community Solar Act passed in 2021 called on the state’s Public Regulatory Commission to design regulations to allow the concept to occur in the state.
It came as state leaders hoped to increase renewable energy sectors in New Mexico, a move aimed at reducing the state’s dependence on oil and gas and meeting climate change goals. and pollution reductions demanded by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham since taking office in 2019.
These efforts were to be bolstered with the inclusion of New Mexico in the federal program, along with Colorado, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Washington, DC.
The Community Solar Subscription Pilot Platform will offer community solar power through a digital interface to government programs, initially focusing on the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program that helps low-income residents reduce their electricity bills.
The US Department of Energy said it hopes the pilot program will use community solar systems to create $1 billion in savings by 2025, powering the equivalent of 5 million homes in the six states.
US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in announcing the program that it would improve access to renewable energy sources, which she said was particularly important for low-income households who could also see “disproportionately high” bills.
In New Mexico, that could mean a 20% saving on electric bills, the DOE reported, up to $30 million.
“New Mexico is thrilled to participate in this pilot program, which builds on my administration’s efforts to make solar energy available to everyone,” said New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), a longtime supporter of renewable energy and critic of fossil fuels, said the relief would help New Mexicans struggling with high energy bills amid a terrible heat wave and drought ravaging the state this year.
“For a family on a tight budget, higher energy costs can be devastating,” Heinrich said. “With the sweltering heat wave sweeping the country in recent weeks, we need to do everything we can to maintain a reliable and affordable way for people to cool their homes without breaking the bank.”
Heinrich also pointed to his state’s recent policies to increase tax credits for homes and businesses converting to solar power, and the shift of major New Mexico utility companies to expand their solar offerings. renewable energy to customers.
In the recent Senate-proposed Inflation Reduction Act, which saw U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.), usually an opponent of tougher environmental regulations on the energy industry, seem reach an agreement with his party colleagues on several climate-related issues. provisions, Heinrich said he also secured wording for a rebate program for Americans electrifying their homes to reduce emissions.
“New Mexico leads the country in a number of policies that encourage the deployment of solar generation,” Heinrich said. “I focus on how we can accelerate the deployment of residential and utility-scale solar power in every corner of our state – and across the country.”
Pushing renewable energy such as solar and wind could also create jobs, Granholm said, as the sectors continue to grow in New Mexico and across the country.
Recent employment data from the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) showed that New Mexico experienced 7.1% growth in solar jobs between 2020 and 2021.
This growth represented 133 new jobs, from 1,880 solar workers in 2020 to 2,013 last year.
The report showed a 9% increase nationwide during this period, adding 21,563 jobs.
Despite its growth rate below the national average, the US Energy Information Administration ranked New Mexico third in the nation for solar potential, behind Nevada and Arizona.
IREC Executive Director Larry Sherwood said it is up to federal policymakers to encourage solar power in states like New Mexico, the efforts needed to support industry growth, overcome global supply disruptions and other impediments.
“The U.S. solar industry has come back strong from the pandemic to expand the clean energy workforce in every region of the country,” Sherwood said. “There is potential for unprecedented job growth in the years to come if federal, state and local leaders take action to expand clean energy use and address climate change.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.