New Mexico introduces low-income solar act


New Mexico Senate Bill 432, the Low-Income Solar Act, was passed by the state’s Tax Committee on a 7-2 vote. Next it heads to the state’s house of representatives and must pass by March 18, 2022 at noon, the end of the year’s legislative session. 

The bill, sponsored by Senator Carrie Hamblen, would set rules for a more equitable distribution of the value and benefits of on-site solar for low-income residents. 

The bill seeks to expand onsite net metering for qualifying low-income housing projects. It also expands the state’s property tax exemptions to all rooftop solar installations. It also regulates the fees that electric utilities can assess on low-income multifamily housing for operating an on-site solar array. 

“Should this bill pass, that gives us access to that money so that those folks who are in affordable housing — designated affordable housing — can have the opportunity to reduce their utility costs,” said bill sponsor Senator Carrie Hamblen. 

The state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department described the low-income multifamily solar rules as “community solar on a smaller scale.” The bill has met support from the Solar Energy Industries Association, the Sierra Club, Sunrun, Vote Solar, and more. 

“Distributed solar is growing in lower- and middle-income neighborhoods. Accelerating this trend means more of New Mexico’s low-income communities and renters benefit from the savings, reliability, resilience, health and workforce benefits of local clean energy,” said Chris Worley, director of public policy, Sunrun. 

Analysis by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows that many census tracts in New Mexico—predominantly in rural areas—experience a high energy burden, spending 6% or more of household income to meet energy needs, with one census tract’s energy burden as high as 16%. 

New Mexico ranks third in the U.S. for solar potential and is among a handful of states that have enacted a 100% clean energy target. However, New Mexico cannot reach the target equitably without addressing these rural communities with outsized energy burden and higher levels of harm from fossil fuels production.

“In 2021, the passage of the Community Solar Act opened the solar market and advanced clean energy accessibility for New Mexicans. The community solar program mandated that 30% of each project be reserved for low-income subscribers, creating economic benefits for New Mexicans. While this program’s implementation was a huge accomplishment, the demand for low-income access to solar energy is overwhelming. SB432 is complimentary to the community solar bill,” said Mayane Chavez Barudin, deputy program director, Interior West at Vote Solar.

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