Solar power is a success story for New Mexico.
It’s reducing energy costs, cutting carbon emissions and spurring economic development across our state. In the past half-decade, the costs of installing solar have declined 43 percent — making solar cheaper than most fossil fuels. As mayors of three of the state’s largest cities, we’ve taken note: Expanding solar can bring us cleaner air, more jobs at higher wages, and a more dynamic and resilient economy.
But there’s a hurdle to overcome. The reason solar still hasn’t surpassed 5 percent of our state’s electricity generation is that most people simply can’t access the benefits. For New Mexicans who rent apartments, who don’t have roof or yard space, or who might lack access to financing, it’s difficult or impossible to install solar panels at home.
There is a straightforward solution that New Mexico legislators can apply right away. By authorizing community solar, our state can supercharge solar development. We’re supporting the Community Solar Act, Senate Bill 281 and House Bill 210, sponsored by Sen. Liz Stefanics and Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero in the current legislative session, to empower our state to realize the potential.
Here’s the clear vision of community solar: Allow New Mexicans to access clean energy without installing solar panels on their own roofs or yards. Community solar means the development of shared solar projects that provide households, businesses, local governments and other entities their electricity. Community solar projects can be community-owned — by municipalities, counties, Native American jurisdictions, organizations that serve low-income residents — or they can be owned by third-party developers.
The Community Solar Act would provide customers of New Mexico’s investor-owned electric public utilities and some electric co-ops with choice: the option to purchase a subscription to receive a set amount of power from a community solar project for a set period of time. It’s about access to clean energy, often at considerably lower prices.
There’s strong momentum for community solar, but passage isn’t guaranteed. Some voices continue to advocate for a small number of players to hold exclusive ownership of power generation resources. Community solar would mean better outcomes for consumers — and low-income residents in particular. The old monopoly approach is ultimately at odds with New Mexico law, which requires that public utilities procure “the most cost-effective portfolio of resources to supply the energy needs of customers.”
Let’s give power to the people.
Nineteen states have community solar policies in place. Innovative projects like Coyote Ridge Community Solar Farm in Fort Collins, Colo., provide low-cost energy specifically to low-income communities, while hundreds of other projects around the country reduce costs and carbon emissions for all kinds of households
Community solar is a cause that transcends political ideology. Rather than spending new taxpayer dollars to enable the transition to clean energy, this approach unleashes the power of the market to do it. It eliminates the outdated regulations that prevent state residents from generating their own clean energy.
This is part of a bigger strategy for clean and affordable energy for New Mexico. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is doing the right thing by championing a strong Renewable Portfolio Standard for our state — setting clear and responsible goals for procuring sustainable energy. To meet these goals, we need a ramp-up in residential and commercial solar. Community solar will be an essential complement to rooftop solar and utility-scale solar.
Together as mayors, we represent almost 40 percent of the population of New Mexico, and we believe the evidence is clear: Community solar is a win-win for our economy and our environment. New legislation will help unlock New Mexico’s potential for prosperity and innovation by unlocking access to one of mightiest resources: the power of the sun.
Tim Keller is mayor of Albuquerque. Ken Miyagishima is mayor of Las Cruces. Alan Webber is mayor of Santa Fe.