Though New Mexico had established renewable energy goals in 2019, it was in 2021 that a significant community solar bill passed into law. The Community Solar Act creates a program which allows 100 megawatts (MW) annually for a total of 200 MW of community solar development for New Mexico until 2024. After 2024, the cap will be set by the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) as part of their programmatic review and recommendations. For a state with over three hundred days of sunshine every year, there are few places better suited for community solar development.
The program will begin this year with rulemaking, program administration decisions, and project selection scheduled for completion by the fall. The PRC has selected a third-party administrator of the new program, InClime Inc. InClime has begun their RFP process for selecting community solar projects under the two-year pilot program with project selection concluding in April 2023.
The major utilities, Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM), Southwestern Public Service (SPS), and El Paso Electric (EPE), have issued tariffs and bill credit rates. These three utilities, listed in order of market size, service the majority of New Mexicans and are the only utilities required to have a voluntary community solar program. (Native communities, also referred to as tribes and pueblos, and other rural electric cooperatives have the option to create community solar programs and are less restricted by the Community Solar Act.)
The projects will be chosen on a points-based system by the administrator that will be discussed below. However, there is a significant emphasis in the point system and the program as a whole for Low to Moderate Income (LMI) customers with 30% of the program’s capacity – 60 MW – reserved for LMI customers.
Low Income carveout and eligibility
The PRC will issue guidelines to ensure the low-income carve-out is achieved each year. A total of 30% of the annual statewide program capacity will be reserved for low-income customers and low-income service organizations. A low-income customer is defined as a residential customer of a qualifying utility with an annual household income at or below eighty percent of area median income, or that is enrolled in a low-income program facilitated by the state or a low-income energy assistance program. Low-income subscribers can pre-qualify for the 30% allocated total by being enrolled in one or more of the following programs:
If an LMI subscriber is not qualified through enrollment of one of the above programs, the potential subscriber can sign a provisional self-attestation that their income and household size qualifies, but must do so within 90 days of their attestation.
The subscriber organization (SO), typically the asset owner or developer of a project that owns or operates a community solar facility by New Mexico parlance, is responsible for reporting monthly progress towards reaching the 30% LMI requirement. Upon reaching compliance and meeting the 12 month mark, reporting will be done on a quarterly basis for this metric.
The Commission will establish a new cap after January 1, 2024 and require 30% of the program annually to be reserved for low-income customers and low-income service organizations.
The RFP for community solar projects will begin in the fall now that the program administrator has been chosen. The Commission provided a set of scoring criteria to qualify the competitive process through which community solar projects will be chosen. The current timeline projects that bids will be evaluated and ranked by October 1st after which an interconnection review will be conducted, and the project can begin to acquire subscribers
Criteria for awarding community solar projects:
The program administrator will award projects capacity in staggered announcements of 30 MW at a time by utility beginning April 1, 2023. The project selection date will be considered the first of the month following each announcement, effectively May 1, 2023 for all projects, provided there are no delays.
The program administrator is agnostic regarding project size as far as project selection is concerned. An SO may downsize their bid but cannot hold vacated capacity which returns to the capacity pool. A bidder may also choose not to accept a reduced capacity allocation to retain their #1 waitlist position in an effort to secure the full capacity of their bid.
Each bid has a $1000 application fee, and an additional $2500 per MW fee upon selection of a project payable via ACH in the bid portal. Registration opens the same day the solicitation window does on December 1, 2022.
Public utility customers are already submitting project proposals, but according to PRC attorney Russel Fisk, submitting an application early will not give the projects an advantage.
Though renewable energy certificates (RECs) will be generated by community solar facilities, it is required that those facilities sell the RECs to the utility to count towards statewide renewable energy goals. RECs that are not used, sold, or otherwise transferred may be carried for up to 4 years.
Unsubscribed energy may be rolled forward for up to one year from its month of generation on the community solar facility account and can be allocated to subscribers during that period. At the end of that period, any undistributed bill credits will be removed and purchased by its respective utility at its applicable avoided cost of energy rate.
The credit rate is based on the total aggregate retail rate (TARR). The utility must calculate the TARR on a per-customer-class basis, minus the commission-approved distribution costs. The utility also must identify all proposed rules, fees, and other charges converted to a kWh rate. (Includes fuel and power cost adjustments, the value of renewable energy attributes, and other charges of a utility’s effective rate schedule applicable to a given customer rate class, but not including charges described on a utility’s rate schedule as minimum monthly charges.)
The program administrator keeps a table with the TARR and solar bill credits by rate class by utility on their webpage under “Bill Credits”.
The utility’s tariff for the bill credit must include a table specifying:
The utility will not subtract any costs of transmission from the solar bill credit rate calculation.
A utility must initially value the environmental attributes of RECs at the utility’s average cost of meeting its renewable portfolio standard requirement.
During the utility’s next base rate case, the PRC will consider whether to use a different methodology to determine the net present value of the environmental attributes of RECs necessary to reach the mandated 80% renewable portfolio standard by 2040.
New Mexico has its highest population density in the central part of the state, like Albuquerque and its metropolitan region and some other denser cities like Santa Fe. This service territory covers more than half of New Mexico’s population of 2 million and is serviced by the state’s largest electric utility, PNM. The other utilities, SPS and EPE, cover eastern New Mexico including Roswell, and southern New Mexico including Las Cruces, respectively. There is an option for the PRC to reallocate unused community solar MW to a different service territory if it is unfilled and there is demand elsewhere.