Report: Utilities like PNM vastly undervalue solar energy

Environment New Mexico Research & Policy Center

Albuquerque, NM – Households and businesses with solar panels deliver greater benefits than they receive through programs like net metering, a report said today, countering increasing complaints from utilities that solar homeowners don’t pay their fair share.

“The benefits of solar energy are far greater than the costs,” said Sanders Moore, director of Environment New Mexico.  “While some utilities claim they’re subsidizing solar panel owners, our report shows the opposite is probably true. If anything, utilities should be paying people who go solar more, not less.”

The Environment New Mexico Research & Policy Center report, Shining Rewards: The Value of Rooftop Solar Power for Consumers and Society, comes on the heels of PNM’s proposal to charge home and business owners with solar systems a monthly fee.

“All New Mexicans – from Mora to Hidalgo County – deserve access to affordable, clean energy,” stated Attorney General Hector Balderas. “We need better information on the true value of affordable energy solutions – and that is why I called on the PRC in April to begin a comprehensive state-wide examination of strengths and weaknesses of distributed generation, including solar options.”

Net metering programs credit solar panel owners at a fixed rate — often the retail price of electricity — for providing excess power to the grid, similar to rollover minutes on a cell phone plan. The arrangements have helped solar energy skyrocket across the country, but in recent years utilities have increasingly attacked them as unjustified “subsidies.”

Today’s report tells a different story. Of the 11 net metering studies reviewed, eight found that the value of solar energy was higher than the average local residential retail electricity rate. The median value of solar power across all 11 studies was nearly 17 cents per unit, compared to the nation’s average retail electricity rate of about 12 cents. 

In other words: utilities were likely underpaying solar panel owners, not subsidizing them.

“The net benefit of solar on any electric grid has been conclusively shown by 16 statewide studies. Solar creates local jobs at 10X the rate of coal; electricity from solar costs less than electricity from fossil fuels; and solar uses no water to generate electricity, stated Regina Wheeler, CEO of Positive Energy Solar. “PNM is ignoring the facts and proposing penalties for interconnecting solar on our grid.  We are counting on the PRC to act in the best interest of New Mexicans by rejecting policies that would prevent realization of our bright renewable energy future.”

All 11 of the studies found that solar panel owners offered the electric system as a whole net benefits, including reduced capital investment costs, avoided energy costs, and reduced environmental compliance costs. 

“The solar industry provides numerous benefits to New Mexico. Most notably, it is our state’s fastest growing industry, employing 1,600 New Mexicans last year, and providing high paying jobs that cannot be outsourced to another state or country,” added Senator Mimi Stewart, D-17. “In addition, solar energy provides a pollution-free energy source and reduces our impact on climate change. We should do everything we can in New Mexico to support more solar energy.”

The report’s findings should prod the Public Regulatory Commission to determine the true value of solar power in New Mexico, Environment New Mexico Research & Policy Center said.

“Solar power’s rewards are far greater than its costs,” said Moore. “We should be encouraging even more solar, not penalizing it.”

New Mexicans can learn more about how to install solar panels on their homes, as well as become a solar advocate, at Solar Summer Orientation. This event will be on Thursday, June 25 from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. at the Sierra Club’s office at 2215 Lead Ave. SE, Albuquerque, NM 87106.