Erin Sanborn, Steve Fuhlendorf and Mary Emery

 

How our renewable energy future will unfold is unknown. Changes in this industry are multiple, occurring rapidly, and outside forces can shift the industry in a very short time frame. In order to move toward a clean energy future, a business must be able to see different systems and causal relationships plus constantly think outside the box. Given today’s business conditions, one scenario is to utilize the willingness of many, many people to participate in solar energy development and marry it to New Mexico’s underutilized solar potential. One model is for community solar arrays or community shared solar.

In the northern region of New Mexico, specifically Taos County, Kit Carson Electric Coop (KCEC) has developed different scenarios and plans of action towards a renewable energy future. Community shared solar, or what KCEC calls “community solar projects,” is spreading across the country. Many environmentally minded residents of this eclectic community would like to take advantage of the abundant sunlight (more than 300 days/year) to power their homes. To do so requires not only a large monetary investment, but also a large, open location to install a solar array. This dilemma has been solved through the community solar concept.

Rather than individual homeowners installing rooftop solar, KCEC has created a means for members to buy panels or shares of panels that are added to grid-tied community solar arrays. The homeowner is actually purchasing a share of the array, which is treated the same as residential solar in terms of available tax incentives, without the additional cost of installation and long-term maintenance. It is a way to take advantage of the many benefits of solar power without having to install and maintain a residential system. Depending on the price of the panels, which is influenced by several factors, they will pay for themselves in as little as five years. From that point on the panels become an investment paying dividends on each electric bill. The panels, installed at solar arrays throughout the community, are maintained by KCEC and are real property that can be sold or bequeathed by the owners. With the life of panels being about 25 to 30 years, the long-term savings make for a tremendous return on investment. This plan works within the current state-mandated standard that KCEC must meet in terms of renewable energy development. The model is brilliant.

A current example where community residents can invest in a community solar project is the Foothills Community Solar Array at Taos Charter School. The school is hosting an array of approximately 100KW or a 500 panel solar array. It is due to be completed in June. Final cost of the panels or shares in the array will be somewhere between $500-$600. The construction contract has been awarded to Mark Johnson of Sol Luna Solar. The best part of this project is that the panels are available to be purchased by the public. People who buy panels will receive renewable energy tax credits—30 percent from the federal government and 10 percent from the state—the full amount allowed under current legislation. When you buy a panel, the energy produced will be credited to your electric bill, anywhere within the KCEC system. The Taos Charter School has negotiated its electric bill in exchange for leasing its property over 20 years, which will provide an energy cost savings, flexibility in the school’s budget and an environmental learning experience for students, all while helping improve our planet. 

 

Community Solar Projects are innovative and creative models in the current renewable energy environment of New Mexico. In today’s world, more and more of our experiences are non-linear, such as weather patterns, new inventions, reversal of legislative gains, or new innovation.

 

Consider how this business sector and model would change if:

  • The cost of oil and gas skyrocketed because of war, environmental catastrophe or new innovation and an energy supply shortage ensued;
  • The Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard in NM was increased or decreased;
  • Renewable Energy Credits were eliminated. Or increased. Or if new incentives were introduced;
  • A new solar energy innovation comes on the market. What if panels were lightweight? Of if the cost of a solar panel decreased to $50 per panel;
  • Large amounts of local investment dollars come into our communities and neighborhoods strove to become energy self-sufficient;
  • Current business conditions remain the same: price of oil and gas, price of panels, renewable energy portfolio percentages, federal subsidies for oil and gas and renewable tax credits, etc.

 

It is likely that within the next few years, one of these unforeseen aspects will catch us by surprise. For those who are working in the renewable energy industry, may I suggest you consider using Scenario Planning from your business toolbox. Most businesses use some form of Strategic Planning. Strategic Planning is linear and is very important. It helps businesses go from point A to points B & C, with defined steps and measures of success. Scenario Planning may be a useful business tool to ensure long-term success. It may become imperative to be able to “turn on a dime,” shift your business strategies and develop new models, especially if one of the factors above alters the business environment for renewable energy. New Mexico’s clean energy future may depend on it. Meanwhile, Taos County will strive to live up to the name that Brad Hockmeyer of KTAO Solar Radio 101.9, coined years ago, Taos: The Solar Capital of the World.

For more information on Scenario Planning, contact Erin Sanborn at 575.770.2991 or erin@collaborativegreen.com. For more information on community solar arrays, or to purchase panels, contact Steve Fuhlendorf, Kit Carson Electric Coop, at 575.758.2258, ext. 143, or sfuhlendorf@kitcarson.com. To learn more about the Taos Charter School’s array, contact Mary Emery, Coordinator for the Taos Charter School. She is at 575.770.8382 or memery1043@gmail.com.