After months of informal stakeholder meetings, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission drafted a proposed community solar rule and opened the formal rulemaking process.
The PRC unanimously approved an order kicking off the formal process during its Wednesday meeting. The rules must be in place by April 1 under the Community Solar Act.
The notice of proposed rulemaking will be published in the New Mexico Register on Nov. 9. After that, the public will have until Dec. 9 to comment and then response comments will be due by Dec. 29.
Community solar allows people who are unable to have rooftop solar at their residence to subscribe to receive power from an array. This can apply to renters, people who live in apartments or low-income households who cannot afford to pay the upfront costs for solar panels.
While the proposed rule has been drafted, some questions remain unanswered. The PRC is further looking for input on these questions.
At the start of the discussion, Commissioner Joseph Maestas reflected on what he called a “long and winding road” to get to this point, including years of advocacy work to get the Community Solar Act passed and signed by the governor. He said supporters pushed numerous legislative attempts to adopt community solar prior to the passage earlier this year.
The PRC contracted with the consulting firm Strategen to develop a report that the commission used to aid in drafting the proposed rule. During that process, the PRC held several workshops that involved dozens of stakeholders.
“There are a number of issues in the legislation that have to be addressed through the rulemaking process,” Maestas said. “And while we had a robust discussion around those primary issues, we didn’t achieve consistent clear consensus in all of them. And so, we as a commission, during the formal rulemaking process, will call upon the community again in a more formal fashion to address a lot of those unresolved issues.”
Maestas headed up the rulemaking process within the PRC’s Community Solar Action Team.
The stakeholder input leading up to the proposed rule led to recommendations including that projects should be selected using a non-price request for proposals with minimum requirements as well as rank and scoring criteria, that the selected projects will undergo an interconnection review under a process that will be approved through the ongoing interconnection rulemaking and that the solar bill credit should not deduct transmission costs.
PRC General Counsel Russell Fisk said this rulemaking process will be a bit different than ones in the past, in part because it is asking for community input on those unresolved issues. The process will include two rounds of public comments as well as a public hearing. People who have provided written comments will not be allowed to provide oral comments during the hearing, which is tentatively scheduled for early January.
One of the issues is that the legislation gave the PRC the authority to administer and enforce the provisions of the Community Solar Act; however, it did not provide additional funding to do so, according to Arthur O’Donnell, who has a Department of Energy fellowship with the PRC. He said there are three options for the commission in administering the program—hire staff, contract an administrator or hand the administration over to the utility.
Other issues that remain unresolved include the solar bill credit and the allocation of capacity among the three investor-owned utilities.
O’Donnell also highlighted the ongoing interconnection rulemaking, which parallels the Community Solar Act rulemaking. The interconnection rulemaking addresses the ability of community solar developers or people with rooftop solar to connect their systems to the utility grid.
Information about the rulemaking can be found at nm-prc.org/utilities/community-solar.
“I read through all the material, and I thought the rules that was put together struck a nice balance between not getting too detailed and prescriptive, but clearly laying out what needs to be done and allowing for the commission to adjust on the fly after a rule was adopted, to make adjustments without having to go back and rewrite the rule,” said Commission Chairman Stephen Fischmann.