BY RICHARD DOVERE / CHIEF INVESTMENT OFFICER, EDP RENEWABLES SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 19TH, 2021 AT 12:02AM
More than 65,000 residents across New Mexico experience a blackout each year. … And while New Mexico is among the most sun-drenched places in the country, the vast majority of the state’s energy is generated by heavily polluting fossil fuels – even as the impacts of climate change, from rising temperatures to storms to water scarcity, grow worse each year.
For all these reasons, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham enacted the Community Solar Act, a bipartisan measure to introduce 200 MW of affordable, clean, locally generated electricity fueled by the state’s most abundant natural resource.
By employing smaller, decentralized solar arrays closer to homes and businesses, community solar promises to ease New Mexico’s dependence on aging, centralized power plants by introducing abundant sources of cheap, clean power managed at the local level.
This is the kind of forward-thinking policy that New Mexico needs. Expanding community solar will generate over 3,760 jobs, $517 million in economic benefits, $147 million in labor income, and $2.9 million yearly in tax revenue, according to the New Mexico Bureau of Business & Economic Research.
Under the Community Solar Act, energy from these projects will be offered as an affordable subscription from electric utilities. The law allocates 30% of those subscriptions for low-income customers and low-income serving organizations at a discount, ensuring rural areas, renters, and tribal communities aren’t left behind by the energy transition.
And by decentralizing how the state generates electricity, the grid becomes more resilient to natural disasters, climate change, and cyberattacks that hamstring energy infrastructure elsewhere. Even if one section of the grid is impacted, community solar and decentralized assets are able to keep operating.
Community solar produces additional benefits: While coal-fired power plants consume vast amounts of water for cooling, solar panels require virtually no water and ease the strain on New Mexico’s valuable water resources. Local solar projects also don’t rely as much on high-voltage power lines, putting less stress on existing lines and saving millions on maintenance and repairs.
Additionally, each megawatt of solar produced at the local level is one that’s not needed from obsolete fossil fuel plants. Those power plants, propped up by ratepayers, impose millions of dollars in unnecessary costs that distort the market and cost millions more in medical bills from the pollution.
Those aren’t the only costs: (In recent years) New Mexico’s overreliance on plummeting oil and gas production converted a $2 billion budget surplus into a $400 million shortfall. Clean energy, meanwhile, is among the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. economy, attracting more than $1 trillion of investment in the past two years.
Two hundred MW of community solar should just be the start – which developers could fulfill by the end of this year alone. By building on the Community Solar Act and accelerating support for community solar, New Mexico can take full advantage of the enormous untapped potential statewide and generate thousands of jobs, nearly a half-billion dollars in economic activity, and a clean, reliable, and equitable grid.
Leadership from Gov. Lujan Grisham, state legislators, and community activists put us on the right track for sustainably upgrading the grid. Accelerating that transition is necessary to protect our communities and prepare our energy industry for climate change – expanding community solar capacity is the next step.