October 13, 2015

Study: Fossil fuel groups targeting solar industry

Photo Credit: Walmart Corporate cc

A study by an environmental group says fossil fuel industry interests are aiming at taking down the growing solar energy industry. The local branch of the group says New Mexico has been resistant to these attempts.

Photo Credit: Walmart Corporate cc

Photo Credit: Walmart Corporate cc

Environment America released a study on Tuesday looking at the way these groups attempt to head off solar industry.

The study placed blame at the feet of organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a controversial conservative group that allows close ties between corporate interests and legislators.

While New Mexico is not specifically mentioned in the report, outside of a reference in the footnotes, Environment New Mexico sees this as a local issue.

“ALEC aggressively generates anti-renewable energy model legislation in an attempt to undermine solar power in places like New Mexico,” said Carly Poremba of Environment New Mexico in a statement. “Our report underscores just how extensively they promote the use of this tactic across the country.”

In a short interview, Poremba noted that New Mexico has been relatively friendly to solar.

“Fortunately in New Mexico, there have been a few efforts but they haven’t been tremendously successful,” she said.

Legislation related to weakening New Mexico’s renewable portfolio standard has popped up throughout recent years.

New Mexico’s renewable portfolio standard currently requires that 15 percent of energy come from renewable sources; by 2020, that will go up to 20 percent. Legislation that passed the House this year would have repealed the 2020 standard. It did not pass the Senate.

Environment New Mexico says that New Mexico’s per-capita solar capacity has gone up by 37 percent in the last two years.

Solar tax credit

The group cites policies such as the 10 percent tax credit for the installation of solar systems for not only residential units but also commercial and agricultural.

Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed an attempt to extend this tax credit without explanation this year. The tax credit is slated to end in 2016. The bill that passed would have extended the tax credit to 2024 but reduced it from 10 percent to 5 percent from 2019 to 2024.

State Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, sponsored the legislation to extend the tax credit in this year’s legislative session.

“It is imperative that we extend this credit during the legislative session next year in order to ensure that this opportunity is maintained for all New Mexicans for years to come,” Stewart said in a statement.

As for this year, Peramba says Stewart is willing to carry the legislation again.

“She’s willing and open to sponsoring it,” Peramba said. “We’re hoping that it will get through he legislature.”

The legislation would be similar to the legislation that passed in the 2015 session according to Peramba.

Fees for solar customers

While environmental groups say these efforts have helped New Mexico’s solar industry grow, the Environment America study found some pushes around the country that they say undermine the solar industry.

One happened in New Mexico’s neighbor to the west, Arizona. Arizona Public Service has imposed fees on customers who install solar units. The state’s largest utility is seeking to hike those fees.

APS argues that the fees would help with the costs of maintaining the power grid.

The Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) sought to impose similar charges. This prompted backlash from environmental groups and others, including Attorney General Hector Balderas.

Poremba said that, “there was just too much public to cry against it” when PNM proposed the fee.

In May, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) rejected a rate hike that would have included the solar fees.