WHAT IS COMMUNITY SOLAR?
KEEPING THE COMMUNITY IN COMMUNITY SOLAR
Community solar, a decentralized way of generating electricity, is a path for New Mexico communities to democratize the generation and sale of electricity and, at the same time, move more quickly to a just, renewable energy economy.
Decentralized generation of electricity happens when community solar cooperatives, non-profit organizations, for profit corporations and others build, own, and operate solar facilities to sell electricity to individuals and small businesses by using the distribution systems owned by the investor-owned electricity utility (“IOUs”).
In New Mexico, many types of entities can build, own, and operate community solar facilities. These include (1) for-profit corporations, such as solar developers; (2) non-profit organizations; (3) Native American, municipal and other governmental entities, and (4) community solar cooperatives.
When communities build, own, and operate their own community solar facilities, they ensure that local people make the important decisions, such as a facility’s size, its financing, and operations; and, in addition, ensure that the cost savings benefit the people who live there.
As mandated by the Renewable Energy Act, IOUs and, to a lesser extent, rural electric cooperatives must transition to one hundred percent renewable energy by 2045. Developers and local communities increase solar electricity in the state over and above the amounts required by the Renewable Energy Act.
One can get involved in three different ways: (1) becoming a subscriber organization or helping develop a community owned and controlled subscriber organization; (2) becoming a host of a community solar facility on one’s property (on one’s roof or land); and (3) becoming a subscriber of a subscriber organization.
Entities that wish to become a subscriber organization must submit an application (a proposal) to the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (“PRC”). The Community Solar Act allocates just 200 MWs statewide for the development of community solar projects. Many more entities have expressed an interest in developing Community Solar projects than there is available capacity; therefore, the PRC will conduct a competitive process to choose the approved projects.
Accordion ContenThe PRC’s call for applications (proposals) will probably occur in December 2022; it may have workshops for potential applicants this fall.
Winning applicants will meet the minimum requirements and achieve the best scores based on experience, financing plans, site and interconnection viability, and program features, including benefits proposed for the community’s low-income residents and community as a whole. Applications must comply with the Community Solar Act and PRC Rule 573:
The Renewable Energy Working Group strongly supports community owned and controlled community solar projects. Both non-profit organizations and community solar cooperatives can win points that corporate, for-profit developers cannot. We encourage New Mexico communities and their representatives and advocates, especially Native American and Chicana, to apply. The EJC Renewable Energy Working Group will be holding community meetings so that we can learn and work together to develop Community Solar in New Mexico. Watch this webpage for meeting announcements!
Meanwhile, Renewable Energy Working Group members have prepared roadmaps and background materials to help us navigate these administrative processes. Bob Scott has developed an outline of Rule 573 according to its main topical issues. Andrew Stone has put together a PowerPoint to help us file community solar applications for PRC-approval. Jane Yee has written a PowerPoint to put all these rules in a bigger regulatory context.
The subscriber organizations will select site hosts and recruit subscribers. In signing up subscribers, the subscriber organizations must comply with Rule 573, Sections 15, 16, and 17; these sections establish subscriber protections – such as fair disclosure of future costs, key contract terms, security interests, and grievance procedures.
Community solar subscribers pay subscriber organizations according to their agreements. Subscribers pay for an agreed amount of the output of the community solar facility. However, these terms will be specific to each subscriber agreement – all of which must spell out detailed terms according to Rule 573. In addition, subscribers will pay their bills from the investor-owned utility (IOU) except subscribers will get a credit from the IOU for the solar energy that the subscribers buy from their community solar facility.
Subscribers of community-owned and controlled facilities will probably enjoy savings due to current trends in energy markets and, in some instances, due to the avoidance of costs imposed by for-profit solar developers.