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New Mexico and Colorado are alike in many energy goals. Why so long to embrace communtiy solar?

New Mexico and Colorado are in more-or-less lockstep in their goals to decarbonize. But in adopting one of the tools, that of community solar gardens, they’re roughly a decade apart.

Legislators in New Mexico this year finally passed a bill that will allow renters and people who can’t afford the costs of rooftop solar installation to subscribe to get the benefits of solar, reports the Santa Fe Reporter.

The publication explains that proponents of the concept gained ground in 2020 when legislators created a working group to study the successes and failures of community solar legislation in other states and the implications for New Mexico. Recommendations issued by the group after dozens of meetings helped shape the version of this year’s bill.

Electrical utilities got on board after bill sponsors agreed to reduce the size of the program and exclude large corporate entities from subscribing to community solar projects.

The Community Solar Act will allow businesses, non-profits, municipalities, tribes, and utilities to develop and manage community solar projects of up to 5 megawatts. Each project must have a minimum of 10 subscribers. Of the solar generated by each community solar project, 30% must be allocated to low-income customers.

Costs are at issue. Xcel Energy reported that in 2018 it paid twice as much per kilowatt-hour to purchase electricity generated from community solar gardens in Minnesota than it paid for electricity generated by utility-scale solar projects.

Rick Gilliam, the metro Denver-based program director for Vote Solar testified in favor of the bill in New Mexico. He told the Santa Fe Reporter that the bill had several measures to protect New Mexico ratepayers from undue costs. Costs for non-subscribers can’t be increased by more than 3%.

Colorado’s Community Solar Act was first in the nation. Why would sunny New Mexico take so much long?

Gilliam told Big Pivots that key utilities in New Mexico seem to have a grip on key legislators. Republicans opposed solar gardens, but so did many Democrats for several years.

“Utilities don’t like community solar as it competes directly with them for sales—something they’re not used to,” he wrote in an e-mail.

“Frankly, I was surprised we got it passed in Colorado as easily as we did a decade ago,” he said.

Allen Best
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