New Mexico is blessed with the perfect profile of sun and wind to fully supply our energy needs. It is a perfect medley of clean, renewable resources that can provide for all New Mexicans. Tapping into this potential was the impetus behind the passage of Community Solar. Created during the 2021 legislative session, it aims to provide more New Mexicans access to clean local electricity.
This is accomplished by authorizing solar projects from small, local solar facilities. Once created, these facilities will be shared by multiple community subscribers. Residents who sign up receive credit on their electricity bills for their share of the power produced.
The program requires that 30% of the energy generated by these projects go to low-income households. This means that commercial spaces and high-income neighborhoods will not be the only ones to benefit from solar energy. Rural community members will also have a unique opportunity to profit by leasing their lands to solar projects.
By expanding who can access clean energy, community solar makes New Mexico’s energy transition more equitable and just. Residents unable to access solar energy – low-income households, renters, or people whose homes have structural constraints – can now benefit from our state’s renewable energy potential.
Equitable climate legislation like this takes considerable time to develop. The first version of Community Solar was introduced by Senator Bill Soules in 2005. In 2016, our sister organization CVNM Education Fund’s program “Juntos: Our Air Our Water ” started grassroots organizing around solar access, and in the 2017 session, another version of Community Solar was introduced. Ultimately, it failed to pass but was the furthest this kind of bill had ever gotten.
No bill was introduced in the 2018 short session, but the issue played a key role in accountability during that year’s Democratic primaries. The bad votes and absences of some Representatives on 2017’s Community Solar bill played a key role in electing pro-conservation legislators. Combined with the election of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, the window was officially opened to develop a real Community Solar program in New Mexico.
In 2019, a Community Solar bill was introduced again. It passed through the House and into the Senate Conservation Committee, where it would ultimately fail to pass. But again, it was the furthest it had ever come. We were getting closer.
The plan going into the 2020 legislative session was not to run a bill but instead to request the formation of a working group supported by the Governor and legislative leadership to develop a bill for the 2021 session. Unfortunately, this plan had to be abandoned when House Speaker Brian Egolf made Community Solar a signature issue for his 2020 legislative agenda. The hastily assembled bill that followed failed to pass.
Luckily, a silver lining came out of this process. A co-sponsor of the bill, Senator Liz Stafanics, managed to pass a memorial for the bill. This created a study group to run during the 2020 interim committee session. Its goal was to bring stakeholders together and unpack some of the key sticking points in the Community Solar bill debate.
The interim group process was remarkably robust. The working group represented stakeholders from environmental groups, the solar energy industry, investor-owned utilities, rural electric cooperatives, pueblos, utility regulators, and private citizens. This process ultimately yielded the successful passage of Community Solar in 2021.
Community Solar succeeded because CVNM and our allies centered the voices of impacted communities in our persistent efforts. We also did the tough coalition work needed to build a cohesive statewide strategy. It is a benchmark of success and a glimpse into how we will craft a just and equitable energy transition – by working together every step of the way.
For our advocacy on this project, CVNM was recognized as a “Community Solar Champion” in 2021 by the Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA) CVNM and CCSA continue working to expand access to solar for New Mexicans. In 2022, Community Solar went through the rulemaking process. In 2023, the third party entity, InClime, contracted by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, finished the bidding process.
Now, the 45 selected solar projects are ramping up. The process for New Mexicans to be able to subscribe to these programs will be slow. Setbacks and the innately gradual nature of rolling out a new and complex program means it could be months or years before community members can tap into this network. But Community Solar is coming to a neighborhood near you, likely in 2024 or 2025.