January 25, 2016

House Energy committee clears solar tax bill

Photo Credit: Walmart Corporate cc

The House Energy and Natural Resources Committee narrowly passed a bill to extend the state’s solar energy tax credit for another eight years.

Photo Credit: Walmart Corporate cc

Photo Credit: Walmart Corporate cc

Two Albuquerque Republicans, one of whom is co-sponsoring the measure, supported the bill while all GOP representatives from rural communities opposed it. The final tally was 6-4.

Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, is carrying the bill in the House, with Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque as a cosponsor.

“I see this bill as critical in terms of maintaining a key area of our economy,” Maestas Barnes said. “Theres are good, high-paying jobs that typically pay in the $20-23 [per hour] range.”

Reps. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs and James Townsend, R-Artesia offered the most critical comments of the bill, arguing that it would hurt poor people.

“I am 100 percent for renewable energy,” Scott said. “The issue i have is the cost of renewable energy is being shifted from the people who do have resources to the people who don’t.”

Townsend argued that the bill would drive energy costs up for families who don’t use solar.

“One of the reasons I oppose it is I look at it as a rich man’s bill,” Townsend said. “There’s nothing in this bill that says, ‘For those who need help, we’re going to help them.’”

He also criticized the bill for only helping the solar industry.

“I have to disagree,” Maestas Barnes said. “It does help the solar companies in New Mexico, but in turn those solar companies provide good paying jobs in the state.”

Townsend offered an amendment that would have limited parts of the soar tax benefits to families making household incomes of $50,000 or less.

House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, rejected the notion that solar energy would drive energy costs up for households who don’t have it.

“That’s just not supported by the facts,” Egolf said. “It’s much more complicated than 12 people putting solar panels on their roof … If you follow rate cases, that’s just not how rates are set.”

Egolf criticized Townsend’s amendment for not taking home ownership numbers into consideration. Low-income families who rent homes, he argued, wouldn’t likely take advantage of the tax credit.

“I get it, you don’t want a billionaire getting this tax credit,” he said. “But it’s more than just income that should be taken into consideration.”

He also mentioned that many government subsidies go to the oil and gas industry.

The amendment failed, with Maestas Barnes offering the only Republican vote against.

Egolf also raised concerns about wording in the bill where the tax credit is targeted to those at the point of installation of solar panels instead of purchase of solar panels.

“I would suggest on each of the instances where you have the word ‘installed,’ you replace with the word ‘purchased,’” he said.

Maestas Barnes said Egolf’s statement was a “point well taken” and that it would have to be discussed at a later time. Egolf ended up passing on the final vote for the bill.

A similar bill passed both chambers last year, though Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed it when it reached her desk.