Nevada Solar Fight Could Become National Issue

In December, the three-person public utility commission in Nevada, under pressure from the state’s largest electric utility, NV Energy, effectively threw a wrench into the state’s solar-power market. The regulators drastically rolled back a key financial incentive for rooftop solar installations. The decision could mean thousands of dollars of higher electricity costs for existing customers, who may see their monthly fee raised threefold by 2020 and their net-metering credit reduced by 18 percent. The move has prompted a mass exodus of solar contractors from the state with the most solar jobs per capita.

Net metering is the policy most states have adopted that allows homeowners to sell the excess electricity from their solar panels back to the utility at set prices. It enables solar customers to defray their upfront costs. But utilities have opposed the policy because they lose revenues from kilowatt-hours from solar customers and then have to pay those customers for their power. Conservative utility allies such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are waging a nationwide battle against net metering to get other states to follow Nevada’s lead.

Two homeowners have filed a class-action lawsuit against NV Energy, and a coalition of solar companies is seeking a ballot measure that would reverse the regulators’ decision. Solar enjoys widespread support from Nevada voters in both parties: A recent Colorado College poll found that 75 percent of voters support tax incentives for solar.

The fight for energy freedom and energy choice could become an important issue in the presidential election.

Solar Industry Growth in New Mexico

Although other Southwestern states and several less sunny states have far surpassed New Mexico in solar power growth due to more solar-friendly state policies, New Mexico ranks ninth in solar jobs per capita, according to a new report by the Washington, D.C.-based Solar Foundation. The New Mexico solar industry is helping fill a gap in employment left by an idling construction industry, as well as layoffs in the coal, oil and gas industries. The solar industry employed 1,900 people in 2015 and has been a key sector for job growth, expected to reach a rate of 12.4 percent in 2016, compared to the state’s overall rate of 0.9 percent. Roughly 102 solar companies operate in New Mexico. The median wage for solar installers is about $21 an hour.

The foundation’s report projects that by the end of 2016, installed solar capacity in New Mexicoutility-scale installations and individual residential and commercial systemswill jump by nearly 65 percent in just over a year, to 595 MW, enough to power about 139,000 homes. The report, cosponsored by the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, was based on direct telephone and email surveys with businesses around the state.

The fight for energy freedom and energy choice could become an important issue in the presidential election.

New Mexico Solar Tax Credit Extension Bills Tabled

Two bills in the 2016 Legislature aimed at extending New Mexico’s solar tax credit and a memorial calling for adding solar panels to state buildings did not survive. The fiscal reality of falling oil and gas revenues, as well as politically divided legislators, impacted many sectors. After the solar tax-credit extension proposal was tabled in committee, Sen. Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque) attempted to tack it on as an amendment to a Senate bill, but that was rejected by a vote of 20–19. Stewart said that there are still “climate change deniers” in the Legislature.

Many customers are expected to take advantage of the state’s solar tax credit before it expires at the end of the year. Particularly for individuals and small businesses, the credit has been seen as an essential complement to the federal tax credit for solar projects. In December, Congress voted to extend the 30 percent Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for commercial and residential installations for another three years, at which point it will ramp down incrementally through 2021 and remain at 10 percent beginning in 2022.

New Solar-Power Systems Installed with USDA/REAP Funding

USDA Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) has provided grants to qualifying businesses in New Mexico in recent months to facilitate installation of renewable-energy (RE) systems.

H.A.W. Farms, LLC, in Belen received $134,092 to offset the $748,144 installation cost of a 990-solar-panel system that is now saving that enterprise $3,000 to $4,000 per month on its energy bill. REAP funding in the amount of $18,067 went toward construction costs for a $72,270 system for the Super 8 Motel in Santa Rosa. When installation of three high-efficiency water heaters and solar collectors is completed, the system will produce enough savings to offset most of the cost of electricity needed to run the business. Silverleaf Family Farms in Corrales received $4,522 toward an $18,090 photovoltaic (PV) solar array. The system has replaced 33 percent of the farm’s energy usage. Sedillo Hill Route 66 Travel Center was provided a grant of $41,720 toward a $166,878 solar system that generates 80,504 kW of electricity, enough for 67 percent of the store’s power needs.

 

The REAP program was created by Congress to help farmers, ranchers and small rural businesses access funds to purchase RE systems and to make energy-efficiency improvements. The program is not available for residential use and is available only for businesses in communities of fewer than 50,000 people; however, there is no population limit for agricultural producers wanting to apply for the program. To obtain information on the REAP program, visit www.usda.gov/energy or call the Rural Development State Office in Albuquerque: 505.761.4957.

 

SunPower by Positive Energy Solar Recertified as a Benefits Corporation

Benefits Corporations (B Corps) are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. Having demonstrated high-integrity business practices, SunPower® by Positive Energy Solar (SPPES), a New Mexico-based company, was recently recertified as a B Corp. The company also received B Lab’s Best for the Environment award in 2014 and 2015.

 

The employee-owned company’s distinction was earned for providing good wages, benefits and growth opportunities for its team members and for contributing to schools and nonprofits. SPPES has also become known for its community and volunteer work. Close to 1,000 hours of employee community service were completed in 2015.

 

SPPES touts the equipment it selects for its residential, commercial, governmental and nonprofit customers for its long-term performance and low environmental impact. Positive Energy Solar joined the SunPower® Master Dealer network in January. Visit www.positiveenergysolar.com

 

Sol Luna Solar Manager Earns Certification

Zacarias Johnson, project manager of Sol Luna Solar, has earned certification as a North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners Certified PV Installation Professional. The certification required documentation of relevant education and experience related to photovoltaic (PV) system installation and passing a rigorous exam covering knowledge, skills and abilities required to design, install and maintain PV systems. The exam assesses knowledge on electrical and mechanical systems design, the National Electrical Code, roofing and construction techniques, system maintenance and troubleshooting.

 

Sol Luna Solar, based in Dixon, New Mexico, provides solar PV integration for residential, commercial and utility-scale projects. The company, known for its competitive pricing and customer service, has operated in northern New Mexico for more than 40 years, installing systems in Albuquerque, Taos and Santa Fe. For information, call 575.770.7042 or visit www.sollunasolar.com