New Mexico Commits $20 Million for Solar Energy

By unanimous vote, New Mexico’s legislature passed HB 32, the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Bonding Act (Stewart). The bill will allow the state to sell $20 million in bonds to fund solar and energy efficiency retrofits for public buildings — but only for projects that pay for themselves through energy savings.

“Leadership is often about walking the walk,” said Adam Browning of the Vote Solar Initiative. “By putting solar on state buildings and schools, the New Mexico Legislature is putting its money where its mouth is and leading the country in a more sustainable direction.” The mechanics of the bill are simple. The state issues bonds, and uses the money for solar and energy efficiency retrofits for state-owned buildings and schools. Ninety percent of the money that would have been used to buy electricity instead goes to pay down the bond, with the remaining ten percent of the savings staying with the building’s host. The buildings generate their own clean energy, the air gets cleaner, and taxpayers aren’t out a dime. Floating a bond for renewable energy projects is an approach that is working very well in many places, with cities like San Francisco and Honolulu taking part. New Mexico is the first state to pass a bond for such purposes, according to Browning. New Mexico’s Department of Energy, Mineral and Natural Resources will administer the program, which is expected to focus on solar photovoltaic (PV) power to a higher degree than solar thermal hot water applications, according to Browning. The Department maintains some in-house capabilities for energy efficiency retrofits, but the renewable energy components will likely be put to outside industry bids. With regards to what mix of energy efficiency versus renewable energy will be implemented through the bonds, language in the bill states that the maximum amount of renewable energy will be used. “New Mexico is saving money, cleaning the air, and creating good local jobs. That’s good government,” said Ben Luce of the Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy, a New Mexico group that advocates for renewable energy issues. According to an analysis by the New Mexico Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department, based upon results of recent projects, a $20 million bond for solar and energy efficiency could result in utility savings of $46 million over the 20-year life of the bond. After the bond is paid off with interest, the net revenue to the state would be $18 million. And this is just one effort among others in the state to promote renewable energy. Governor Richardson has supported a suite of bills that will help pave the way for New Mexico’s solar industry. “Solar is currently a $4 billion global industry, and predicted to grow to $27B by 2010. Positioning the state to get in on the ground floor of an industry poised for explosive growth is smart leadership,” said Amy Welch of the Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy. Renewable energy is not only smart policy, it’s also more in tune with the majority of Americans, said Browning, who outlined polls showing that a recent bi-partisan survey found that only 38 percent of Americans support drilling in ANWR, numerous national polls show support in the 90th percentile for using more solar energy. New Mexico’s vote reflects democracy in environmental decision-making.
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