Are New Mexico Utility Companies Solar Friendly?
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Because New Mexico is close to the equator, solar makes sense, but the weather patterns aren’t the only determining factor for installing solar.
Because homeowners with solar often don’t disconnect from the grid, the home’s current electricity provider makes a difference. New Mexico has three investor-owned utilities and 16 electric cooperatives.
Some utilities offer incentives and programs that are beneficial for solar homes, while others may try to hedge the path for residential generated power. Knowing what the local utility’s stance is and what they offer helps make the decision to go solar an easy one.
An In-depth Look at PNM and Solar
The Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) is the largest utility in New Mexico. It serves those in the Albuquerque and Santa Fe area as well as some cities in the South-West corner and South and North-East corner of the state. Most people that live in Albuquerque or Santa Fe have PNM as their electricity provider.
PNM residential customers have two charging methods to choose from tiered and time of use systems. As of 2019, PNM’s tiered rate system was $0.08/kWh for the first 450 kWh of electricity. The rate then bumped up to $0.12/kWh. Once a customer reached 900 kWh, the electric rate jumped to $0.15/kWh.
Customers on the Time of Use rate system paid $0.19/kWh during the peak months, June through August, and $0.15/kWh the rest of the year. While this may not seem like that big of a deal, when compared to the state electricity rate average of $0.11/kWh and the national average rate of $0.12/kWh, electricity is significantly more expensive for PNM customers.
To help decrease these rates and dependence on the grid, homeowners are turning to alternative energy sources. Those interested in transitioning to solar should first consider current incentives, rebates, and programs that PNM offers.
PNM Net Metering Program
Rule 17.9.570 mandates all utilities in New Mexico to purchase excess power produced by the customer. PNM’s customer-generated power is 1:1 to utility-generated power. Meaning solar customers only buy power when they use more than their array has produced in a billing period.
Energy Conserving Solar Plus Rebates, Discounts and Programs
To help encourage people to conserve energy, PNM has several energy-conserving programs. Among these programs, they offer cooling and heating pump rebates and swimming pool pump rebates.
Other Energy Saving Programs
PNM has a refrigerator recycling program. They also offer energy audits, so customers can determine where they can improve their home’s efficiency. Participating retailers apply PNM discounts on qualifying light bulbs.
PNM’s Power Saver Program
The power saver program helps relieve strain on the grid during times of peak energy demand. Customers that opt into this program receive a free wi-fi connected thermostat, allowing the utility to decrease the temperature by 1 to 3 degrees during these periods. Customers also collect $25 when they sign up and $25 for each year they choose to participate.
PNM Solar REC Purchase Program
The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) recently approved the continuation of PNM’s Customer Solar REC Purchase Program. This program provides a structure for PNM customers to sell their energy credits from their solar array to the utility company.
Opting Into the REC Program
Residential customers who participate in this program receive $0.0025/kWh for the next eight years of solar production. A solar array that produces 600 kWh a month would equal $1.50 per month, $18 a year, and $144 by the end of the program.
However, they also pay $100 more for their solar application fee, which means customers that opt into this program gain more value from it if they have a system that will produce enough to earn more than the extra $100 fee. Meaning the system would need to produce over 417 kilowatts each month.
Opting Out of REC Program
Those who choose to opt-out of this program will not have their REC counted towards the utility’s renewable technology goals for New Mexico. Whether opting into the REC program is beneficial for solar customers, however, is arguable.
Some don’t want to participate because they don’t want their solar technology to count toward the utility’s contribution to the state goal. Others have installed large enough systems that they feel the purchase program is worth the trade.
New Mexico Rural Electric Cooperatives: Santa Fe and Albuquerque Area
Per New Mexico’s PRC rules, all the utilities in the state have a requirement to provide net metering at the avoided cost of the utility company. However, what this looks like and what other programs they offer differs from one utility to the next.
While the two other investor-owned utilities in New Mexico don’t serve the Santa Fe and Albuquerque area, several cooperatives border the area. There are three cooperatives that border the Albuquerque and Santa Fe area. Central New Mexico, Socorro, and Continental Divide all serve the greater Albuquerque and Santa Fe area.
Those interested in solar that live in these jurisdictions should be aware of the programs that these utilities offer.
Central New Mexico Electric
Central New Mexico is a part of Touchstone Energy’s Cooperatives. As a member of this community, they offer energy efficiency, technology, and safety tips. This utility can also provide an energy audit to its customers.
In addition to these energy efficiency awareness programs, this utility also offers net metering and a renewable energy credits program. As of 2020, customers that opt into and qualify for this plan receive $8.50 per kWh of power produced. While this program does state that these customers will receive payment for their production each month, it doesn’t state how long they will receive payment.
Socorro also has an interconnection program. It issues payment for excess customer generation at its avoided cost. At the end of each month, customer accounts that have more than $50 in excess solar credit receive a payment.
As of 2020, those who sign up for their REC program also receive $8.50 per kWh produced by their system. Members are required to report their solar production by the 7th of each month to the utility.
Continental Divide Electric
Continental Divide offers residential energy efficiency rebates for qualified appliances and fixtures. Customers have the option to purchase 100 kWh blocks of renewable energy through the utility. The utility also offers net metering at its retail rate, but it is uncertain how or if they are implementing a REC program.
Why Solar in New Mexico?
New Mexico is an ideal location for residential solar because of its average sun hours. Albuquerque, New Mexico, receives an average of 7-7.5 peak sun hours. Having more peak sun hours means that fewer solar panels are needed to meet a homeowner’s energy needs.
In addition to the location, the state is also pro-renewable energy. One of these measures put in place is the New Mexico energy Transition Act.
New Mexico Energy Transition Act
During New Mexico’s 2019 legislative session, the Governor signed SB 489. This bill has set the state’s renewable energy goal to 50 percent carbon-free electricity by 2030 and 100 percent by 2045. It also provides monetary assistance to help those transitioning from the fossil fuel industry.
Homeowners in New Mexico live in a prime spot. It doesn’t make sense not to take advantage of the sun.