New Mexico exhibits cognitive dissonance on solar policy

Let’s hope New Mexico’s residents learn from the Florida battle last year and prevent the legislature from imposing new onerous responsibilities on solar installers in an attempt to snuff out the rooftop solar industry.

House Bill (HB) 199, introduced by State Rep. Debbie Rodella, and Senate Bill (SB) 210, introduced by State Sen. Clemente Sanchez, sound like good ideas. The language in the bills sound pro-solar and pro-consumer, allegedly designed to protect New Mexico residents from unscrupulous solar installers.

In both cases, however, the bills impose such detailed disclosure policies – including but not limited to the number of pages and the font size used in for such documents – that rooftop solar installers will have a hard time meeting the new requirements. If these bills pass, they are expected have a chilling effect on the rooftop solar industry in the state.

The New Mexico bills, which adopt seemingly pro-solar language to obscure their true intent, are reminiscent of last year’s battle in Florida over Amendment 1, which was a utility-written ballot initiative designed to keep control of the solar industry in utilities’ hands by barring third-party solar firms from operating in the state.

A series of almost comical missteps, including a utility lobbyist being caught on tape outlining the strategy of adopting pro-solar language to fool Florida voters into voting away their right to solar choice, changed the dynamic of the Amendment 1 campaign.

Though Amendment 1 had enough support in the public to pass six weeks before the election, the amendment was ultimately defeated at the polls once consumers realized its true purpose had nothing to do with protecting them. The playbook is also being used in Arizona and Nevada.

What ties the bills together is the Koch Bros.-supported conservative legislative factory called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which creates model bills for legislators to introduce in their states.

The group is notoriously anti-renewable energy, with solar specifically coming under fire. The language in all the bills currently moving through various state legislatures, as well as Florida’s Amendment 1, is similar to anti-solar bills on ALEC’s website.

The new anti-solar movement in New Mexico is at odds with other bipartisan bills introduced two weeks ago are designed to reinstate a 10% solar tax credit that expired at the end of 2016. Similar to a Maine compromise pv magazine reported on last week, the tax credit would slowly decrease over the next five years, reaching 5% by the end of 2021.

In addition, Sen. Mimi Stewart and Rep. Nathan Small have proposed a dramatic expansion of the state’s renewable portfolio standards to 80% by 2040 from its current goal of 20% by 2020. Senate Bill 312 also laid out renewables goals for rural electric cooperatives, raising them to 70%.

Update: This article was updated at 2:33 pm EST on 2/7/17 to include the other pro-solar legislation, Senate Bill 312, also moving through the New Mexico legislature.