This year's 30-day legislative session zeroes in on the state budget and tax related tasks, but there are still a handful of bills on the agenda in both the House and the Senate that look to the state of the environment. Many of them advance Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's goal to make New Mexico "the nation's clean energy leader," as she said in the State of the State speech on Tuesday, the first day of the session.
Here are the three most exciting bills to watch:
Last year's Community Solar Act, sponsored by Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, and Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, died in the Senate. The two lawmakers reintroduced it this session.
As the law currently stands, putting solar panels the roof of one's residence is the most direct way for an individual to cut their ties to coal and gas and save on their electric bill. But this option simply isn't available to many people. Renters or people who live in apartments, for instance, don't have this opportunity. Many families can't afford solar panels even if they own their own home. Their residence might be too shaded, or the roof might slant the wrong direction to get a full day of sun.
Community solar opens up access for anyone to purchase a share or subscription to a local community solar project.
The Community Solar Act would allow municipalities, tribes, Pueblos, counties, nonprofits and for-profit companies to own and operate community solar projects. Each solar installation would be connected to the local utility grid and all energy generated by the project would be distributed by the utility. SB 143 would require each community solar project to have at least 10 local subscribers who receive a "bill credit" on their monthly electricity bills that reflects their share of the electricity produced by the project.
The bill also includes the creation of a community solar assistance fund through the appropriation of $10 million from the general fund to help low-income subscribers participate in local community solar programs. The bill calls for owners to reserve least 30% of project capacities for low-income residents until progress is reevaluated by the New Mexico Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department in 2023.
SB 29, introduced by Sen. Majority Whip Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Santa Fe, would allow individuals to apply for an income tax credit equivalent to 10% of the costs of purchasing and installing new solar systems on their residences, businesses or agricultural projects. The bill caps the tax credit for each individual at $6,000. It also limits the amount that the state can give out in solar development tax credits to $10 million dollars a year. If passed, New Mexico residents would be able to apply for the tax credit for any new solar projects purchased and installed after January 1, 2020.
Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview, Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Abbas Akhil, D-Albuquerque, have introduced a bill that would allow any New Mexico resident to claim an income tax credit of $2,500 for the purchase of an electric vehicle. Taxpayers with an annual income of less than $50,000 would be eligible for a $5,000 credit.
SB 2 also creates an extra registration fee for electric cars that would be applied to the State Road Fund to make up for the loss in taxes that most drivers pay at the gas pump.
Other bills on the table this year include SB 114, which would create a grant program to help low-income residents implement energy efficiency measures such as weatherization and installation of updated appliances, and HB 99, which would appropriate money for the state investment office to create a strategic plan for investment in renewable energy. Another Senate bill, SB 18, would create a tax on renewable energy production to generate revenue for an early childhood fund.