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Will NM Solar Fee Be Scrapped?

New Mexico has up to 340 annual days of sunshine, making it one of the top 10 states where solar is a viable energy source. (votesolar.org)
New Mexico has up to 340 annual days of sunshine, making it one of the top 10 states where solar is a viable energy source. (votesolar.org)
August 22, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A hearing officer for the New Mexico authority that decides utility company rates says fees imposed on solar customers should be dropped.

The Public Regulation Commission has been asked to approve an 11.6 percent increase in the $28 "standby" fee charged to solar customers of Southwestern Public Service. Two groups that intervened in the SPS rate case argue that the fee discourages residents in eastern New Mexico from adopting clean energy.

Chris Dizon, owner of a solar business and a member of Vote Solar, one of the two intervening groups, said people who are trying to take control of their energy bills should not be penalized.

"It's pretty clear that the true objective of this rate isn't to collect standby fees," he said. "It's to deter more solar."

Southwestern Public Service has said the fee is necessary because solar customers can't always generate enough energy from the sun, and other customers shouldn't have to subsidize solar systems. However, hearing officer Carolyn Glick said SPS has failed to demonstrate that solar customers aren't already paying their share of grid costs. She also described the utility company's study on the issue as "riddled with errors."

A decision in the case is expected next month.

Critics of increasing the fee charged to solar customers in eastern New Mexico have said it will discourage customers from adopting solar, and they fear its approval could result in other utilities charging similar fees. Dizon said it's creating a toxic effect that's reflected in how few systems are being installed in eastern New Mexico compared with the rest of the state.

"Basically every single utility area surrounding SPS has somewhere between five and 10 times as many solar customers as SPS," he said. "So, SPS, I think, has 130 customers, and statistically they should have at least 500."

In 2016, a similar case in Nevada led that state's Public Utilities Commission to side with the utility and impose a fee on both new and existing solar customers, causing several rooftop solar businesses to exit the state. About 2,500 people are employed in New Mexico's solar industry.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM