Community solar benefits citizens, not corporations

Have you noticed a trend lately? Distilled, the headlines could read “Spanish firm to acquire PNM,” “French company to build massive solar plants in Four Corners” or even more simply, “Benefits of solar energy flee New Mexico.” European companies are eating our solar lunch and dinner.

Community solar benefits citizens, not corporations

Have you noticed a trend lately? Distilled, the headlines could read “Spanish firm to acquire PNM,” “French company to build massive solar plants in Four Corners” or even more simply, “Benefits of solar energy flee New Mexico.” European companies are eating our solar lunch and dinner.

My family added our photovoltaic system to Public Service Company of New Mexico’s grid in 2005 and added battery storage in 2016. Our system routinely provides neighbors with our extra solar energy at peak-demand times, making the grid more resilient and deferring expensive upgrades that ratepayers always end up paying for. The solar repaid in seven years. The batteries are a research project to see if a family with two electric vehicles can meet all their electricity needs 24/7/365 — spoiler: They can.

We have the economical answer to the resilient future grid — it’s wind, distributed solar and battery storage. Internet search “wire alternatives,” “nanogrids” and “virtual power plants” and you’ll learn that solar coupled with networked batteries is a grid solution already successful in Australia. PNM’s pilot nanogrid project in Mesa del Sol shows how each house can have solar and share a battery with a neighbor to meet their electrical needs 24/7.

But who will own and benefit from the energy transition? If PNM owns all the solar and the batteries, citizens lose their solar benefit and pay way too much. I counsel homeowners on how to maximize their solar investment: Invest your own money if you can to maximize your returns and hire local, reputable New Mexico solar installers to boost the local economy.

Not all homeowners have the credit. Many New Mexicans rent or live in shaded homes. The sun falls equally on all of us; shouldn’t everyone have access to the benefits of solar energy? Of course there is a solution to an equitable and just transition, but we have to fight for it, given the state-sanctioned monopoly on electricity production.

Community solar is the solution, and more specifically, community-owned community solar. Community solar happens when a group like a church or shaded homeowners or renters in an apartment building come together to build a larger solar array and share the energy produced.

Over 20 states have community solar legislation, but not the sunniest state with the sunny state flag! And it’s been quite an uphill battle. Since 2013, forward-thinking citizens and legislators have attempted to pass community solar legislation with no success because of opposition by investor-owned utilities like PNM and the rural electric cooperatives.

Community solar provides choice and competition. Smaller facilities spread around New Mexico provide more diverse economic activity and many more jobs, just as rooftop solar does. Plus when the clouds come over a giant facility, the grid takes a huge hit, which won’t happen if you have solar gardens dotted around the state.

Besides foreign-owned for-profit solar being more expensive, the energy transition can be about energy sovereignty and the desire of the public to find agency in fighting climate disruption. Let’s all participate and reap the benefits.

Community-owned community solar provides the maximum benefit to communities. Contact your legislators and let them know you want a community solar bill that helps our communities. Let’s put the community into community solar and let the sun shine in.

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